Monitoring and Assessment News

Crunch time for Caribbean corals

Jeju Island, Republic of Korea, 7 September 2012 (IUCN/International news release) – Time is running out for corals on Caribbean reefs. Urgent measures must be taken to limit pollution and regulate aggressive fishing practices that threaten the existence of Caribbean coral reef ecosystems, according to a new IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) report.

Average live coral cover on Caribbean reefs has declined to just 8% of the reef today, compared with more than 50% in the 1970s according to the report’s findings. Furthermore, rates of decline on most reefs show no signs of slowing, although the deterioration of live coral cover on more remote reefs in the Netherlands Antilles, Cayman Islands and elsewhere is less marked—with up to 30% cover still surviving. These areas are less exposed to human impact as well as to natural disasters such as hurricanes.

“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,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “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.”

IUCN is calling for strictly enforced local action to improve the health of corals, including limits on fishing through catch quotas, an extension of marine protected areas (MPAs), a halt to nutrient runoff from land and a reduction on the global reliance on fossil fuels. Through the IUCN-coordinated Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), there are also moves to strengthen the data available concerning coral reef decline at a worldwide level. “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,” says Jeremy Jackson, Science Director, Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN). “We are rising to this challenge by extending the methodology of our Caribbean analyses throughout all tropical seas. Results of these separate studies will be posted online as they are completed and will provide a global synthesis by 2016.”

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