Fan coral off the coast of Belize. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Only 8 percent of the Caribbean’s reefs today retain coral, according to a new report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). With input and data from 36 scientists, the report paints a bleak picture of coral decline across the region, threatening fisheries, tourism, and marine life in general.
“The major causes of coral decline are well known and include overfishing, pollution, disease and bleaching caused by rising temperatures resulting from the burning of fossil fuels,” explains Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Program, in a press statement.
Forty years ago, over half of the reefs in the Caribbean sported coral. But after decades of human impacts, only remote reefs in the region show coral growth up to 30 percent, still just over half that found in 1970.
The decline of algae-eating species like parrotfish and sea urchins, have left many reefs overrun by stifling algae. In addition, warming waters due to climate change have also contributed to region-wide coral loss. Symbiotic algae, known as zooxanthellae, abandon the coral when water heats up, an occurrence known as bleaching.
“For those that are very skeptical of what’s happening with climate change, I would say reality is not in their favor,” Lundin told National Geographic.
Overfishing remains a problem in some places, such as Jamaica, and nutrient runoff pollution from land an issue in others like the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The report calls for better fishing regulations in the region, more efforts to tackle nutrient runoff, an increase in marine protected areas, and global cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
“Looking forward, there is an urgent need to immediately and drastically reduce all human impacts if coral reefs and the vitally important fisheries that depend on them are to survive in the decades to come,” Lundin says.
A larger, more detailed, report on the region’s coral reefs will be released in March of next year.
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