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Pristine coral reef discovered off Thailand-WWF

Written by: Staff

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 22 (Reuters) A previously unknown and healthy coral reef has been discovered off the coast of Thailand, a rare piece of good news for the planet's beleaguered oceans, a top global environmental group has said.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said yesterday a team of its divers using information from local fishermen made the discovery in January off Thailand's Phang-nga Province.

The announcement comes as experts from around the world meet in Thailand to discuss coral reef restoration and management. ''Initial rapid surveys have identified over 270 hectares of previously unknown, relatively healthy reefs,'' WWF said in a statement.

''I believe discussions with fishermen over a wider area will lead us to discover even more important reefs, not yet mapped or protected by the authorities,'' said Songpol Tippayawong, Head of the WWF Thailand Marine and Coastal Conservation Unit.

''This reef is easily accessible to dive operators from nearby Khao Lak, and if managed properly can become a prominent local dive site while also contributing an important source of income to the local community,'' Tippayawong said.

Pollution, global warming and expanding human settlements along coasts are among mounting threats to reefs and mangroves, while Khao Lak itself was badly hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

A recent United Nations report said 30 per cent of the world's reefs were severely damaged, while 60 per cent could be lost by 2030 -- underscoring the scientific and ecological value of newly discovered and healthy ones.

Reuters AK DB0951

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