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The world’s top ten coral reef hotspots — threatened areas rich in marine species that live in limited areas — have been identified in a study published in this week’s issue of Science.

These priority areas for coral reef conservation contain just one third of the world’s coral reefs but may shelter more than two-thirds of all restricted-range marine animals, which are particularly vulnerable to extinction.

The findings dispel the long-held contention that marine species are unlikely to become extinct as a consequence of human activities because of their vast geographic ranges in the oceans.

“We know that unless we take action right away, marine species will start going extinct,” says lead author of the report, Callum Roberts of the University of York, United Kingdom. “This study can help us create an urgently needed strategy that targets the places where biodiversity is bleeding away most rapidly.”

The release of the findings coincides with the publication on 14 February of Reefs at Risk in Southeast Asia, which warns that the region’s coral reefs — one of the world’s most diverse reef systems — are in greater danger than previously thought.

The report, published by the US-based environmental thinktank the World Resources Institute (WRI), says that 88 per cent of the region’s coral reefs are severely threatened, particularly by overfishing, destructive fishing practices and pollution. The figure is larger than that found in a WRI survey four years ago.

“Effective management is key to maintaining coastal resources, but it is inadequate across much of Southeast Asia,” says Elizabeth Selig, co-author of the report.

The same is true for other regions of the world, according to Roberts, who says that marine reserves that prohibit fishing should be created immediately in priority areas.

The Philippines ranks first in the list of conservation hotspots, followed by the Gulf of Guinea Islands; the Sunda Islands in Indonesia; the southern Mascarene Islands near Madagascar; eastern South Africa; the northern Indian Ocean; Southern Japan, Taiwan and southern China; the Cape Verde Islands; the western Caribbean; and the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

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