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Caribbean Coral Reefs Nearing Destruction, Report Says

By Alex Johnston
Epoch Times Staff
Created: September 11, 2012 Last Updated: September 13, 2012
Related articles: World » North America
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A tourist snorkles over coral reef. (Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images)

A tourist snorkles over coral reef. (Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images)

Most of the coral on reefs in the Caribbean are dead with less than 10 percent on average having live coral cover, a startling new report shows. 

The report published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) last week shows that the Caribbean coral reefs have died off mainly due to damaging fishing methods, climate change, disease, and pollution.

Only 8 percent of the average coral cover lives on the reef today, compared with more than 50 percent in the 1970s, the report stated. 

It added that the rate of coral decline is not slowing down. It noted that coral cover on reefs in the Caribbean near the Netherlands Antilles, the Cayman Islands, and in some other places is not as bad, with as much 30 percent surviving. Such areas are farther away from human impact and are not as exposed to natural disasters such as hurricanes.

Total coral coverage in the Florida Keys, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico has declined from around 25 or 35 percent in the 1970s to less than 15 percent today, the report stated.

Warmer water sent through the area by passing hurricanes has harmed reefs, the report said. “Coral bleaching,” as it is called, is also a more frequent occurrence and is caused by pollution and warming seas. When coral is under stress, it cannot sustain the algae that give it its color.

“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,” Carl Gustaf Lundin, the head of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Program, said in a statement. He added that the burning of fossil fuels has contributed greatly to warming seas, leading to the decline in coral.

Reefs that have been severely damaged in recent years are now populated with algae, making it more difficult for coral to proliferate, according to the report, which was compiled by 36 scientists from 18 countries and territories to assess trends in the Caribbean.

The IUCN urged countries with coral reefs to curb overfishing, expand or create protected areas, and reduce sewage and fertilizer from seeping into the ocean.

“We need simple universal metrics for the status and trends of coral reefs worldwide and a central repository for coral reef data that is freely and easily accessible to everyone,” Jeremy Jackson of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network said in a statement.

Scientists have estimated that if all coral reefs die out, it would devastate the world’s fish population. In 2010, Lundin told The Associated Press that “whole nations will be threatened in terms of their existence” if coral vanished. 

By some estimates, hundreds of millions of people would be affected, as they depend on the coral reefs for food. 

Across the world’s oceans, around 19 percent of corals are already dead, according to a 2006 report from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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