updated 10/23/2008 4:03:30 PM ET 2008-10-23T20:03:30

The Philippines has proposed adding a premium to the price of fish from the Coral Triangle, as six Asian countries discussed Thursday how to protect one of the world's richest marine areas from pollution.

The countries that bound the Coral Triangle — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and East Timor — are meeting in Manila to prepare a draft plan of action to safeguard the 2.2 million-square-mile ocean expanse with 75 percent of all known coral species and more than 3,000 fish species. It will be submitted to heads of state at the World Oceans Conference in Indonesia next year.

The WWF, an international conservation group, warned in Jakarta on Wednesday that tuna fishing fleets were likely to turn their attention to the Coral Triangle following the depletion of stocks in the Mediterranean.

Experts said pollution, climate change and harmful fishing using dynamite and cyanide threaten the fragile ecosystem, which is the source of livelihood for 2.25 million fishers in the six countries.

Romeo Trono, the Philippine director of Conservation International, said turning spawning tuna grounds into protected areas entails costs for local conservation groups and the government, and one way to recover them would be to devise a compensation system that could be included in the price of fish, or shouldered by the industry.

But that would involve some kind of fish tracking, using data on the migratory trails of specific species, because fish that breed in the Philippines may be caught elsewhere.

"When the tuna grows, it will go out to the Pacific and it will be caught by Americans or other fishing fleet, and we are not getting any support to protect it," Trono said.

U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney announced Washington's pledge of nearly $40 million to support international efforts to save the Coral Triangle.

Syamsul Maarif, an Indonesian official with the Coral Triangle Initiative, said donors — including the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and the U.S. government — have committed a total of $450 million to protect the area.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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