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Scientists warn of serious environmental harm in Asia Pacific

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27 July 2006

In the new book The Environment in Asia Pacific Harbours , published by Springer in The Netherlands, 60 leading scientists in the Asia Pacific region have described serious socio-economic and environmental problems at ports and harbours of mega-cities in their respective countries.

Editor Dr Eric Wolanski, FTSE, FIE Aust, a coastal oceanographer and a leading scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science said ports and harbours are the essential gateways through which all shipping traffic pass and they are under ever-increasing pressure to expand, and to work more efficiently.

Case studies are centred on Tokyo Bay in Japan, the Pearl Estuary, Hong Kong, and Shanghai in China, Ho Chi Monh City in Vietnam, Manila Bay in the Philippines, Jakarta Bay in Indonesia, Bangkok in Thailand, Singapore, Klang in Malaysia, Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and Darwin in Australia. This shoreline has a population of about 100 million people and the coastal waters receive the wastes from 500 million people.

"While the book demonstrates how these ecosystems function and the challenges facing them it also outlines a science-based approach that follows UNESCO's ecohydrology principles and that can achieve ecologically sustainable development. This calls for a new way to manage trade and the environment."

"None of the developed harbours studied in this book were developed in an ecologically sustainable way. The data presented in this book quantify environmental impacts ranging from degradation to ecosystem collapse," Dr Wolanski said.

"A simple measure of the impact of urbanisation and harbour traffic is to assess fisheries. In Tokyo the total annual fish catch decreased by a factor of ten from 150-170 and has not improved even with strict environmental protection measures during the last 10 years."

"Fish kills from hypoxia and toxic algal blooms are now occurring nearly routinely in most of these harbours, including the Pearl Estuary, the Yangtze Estuary, and in Hong Kong waters. Jakarta Bay has very little intact fisheries remaining in the now heavily polluted waters."

By comparison Darwin Harbour fisheries are pristine, however there are large-scale current and proposed developments which concern Dr Wolankski.

"There's increasing urbanisation, a doubling of the size of the LNG gas plant, another pipeline through the Harbour to the expanded gas plant, further clearing of mangroves, a projected 10-fold increase in the size of the port, sea cage aquaculture, a Helium plant, dredging for port expansion, waterfront developments, sand mining, and an increase in shipping. Untreated or primarily treated sewage is still dumped in the harbour that all need to be considered to ensure sustainable development."

Dr Wolanski said historically engineering solutions have sought to try to limit environmental degradation, but these have failed to provide a healthy environment necessary for the quality of life that is expected in developed countries. "Ecosystem recovery is not happening even in the wealthy countries where waste discharges are strictly controlled. One of the major reasons preventing this recovery is the lack of suitable habitats. These key habitats are mangroves and salt marshes, mud flats, seagrass meadows and coral reefs," he said.

"Coastal managers and politicians are asking whether, and if so how, increasing trade can be ecologically sustainable. This book offers science-based solutions to this problem " he said.

In the book's forward former Prime Minister Malcom Fraser writes: "The book is a wake-up call that all countries in the Asia Pacific are facing the same, serious socio-economic and environmental problems with varying scales. I hope it (the book) will create constructive discussion and awareness of the potential pitfalls and possibilities for the Asia Pacific region and the need for integration of efforts to deal with these issues."

Chairman of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO David Pugh has written in the prologue: " These lessons are fundamentally important for the Asia Pacific region, but they will also substantially inform similar analyses of port and harbour management and practices worldwide."

The Environment in Asia Pacific Harbours is published by the international scientific publishing company Springer, based in Germany and the Netherlands. All Case Studies have been peer reviewed.

Media Contacts:

Dr Eric Wolanski , Senior Research Scientist

Phone: (07) 4753 4243

Mobile: 0417 761 404


Wendy Ellery , AIMS Media Liaison

Phone: 07 4753 4409

Mobile: 0418 729 265