Houses of coral

EVEN THOUGH the profits are small, miners in search of a quick buck are exploiting coral reefs all over the Indian Ocean, causing immense damage to the marine ecology.

The problem is particularly severe in Sri Lanka, where 10,000 tonnes of live coral and coral fragments are hauled ashore each year for use by the construction industry, which converts it into building blocks and lime. The government says 80 per cent of Sri Lanka's reefs have already been damaged.

Experts say mining a reef wrecks the nurseries of hundreds of marine plants and animals and biologists report there has been a drop in coastal fish stocks. Stripping coral reefs also impairs their natural role as breakwaters.