Most Caribbean coral reefs will disappear in 20 years if we don’t restore the population of fish that eat seaweed, as Caribbean reefs are gradually getting smothered by algae. This is the message of the new report: Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012 released today as the result of a three-year joint effort of the International Coral Reef Initiative’s (ICRI) Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). The new report reveals a more than 50% decline in living corals throughout the Caribbean over the past half century. Given that Caribbean coral reefs generate more than US$3 billion annually from tourism and fisheries, and that they are a major oceanic ecosystem, this is truly alarming.
More than 36 scientists from 18 countries and territories within the Caribbean Region, and internationally, attend the Workshop meeting in Panama (from April 29 through May 5, 2012) and to provided input into the collaborative analysis.
The coral reefs of the Pacific are in better condition than those in other reef regions in the world, and remain the less stressed compared to reefs elsewhere. This is encouraging considering that recent global reports paint a gloomy picture of the status (and likely future prospects) of large areas of the world’s coral reefs. However, the longer term outlook for Pacific reefs is not encouraging with increasing human-induced threats and global climate change predicted to result in considerable damage in coming decades. This constitutes our conclusion, while many of the reefs in the Pacific appear healthy and resilient now, the outlook is poor. Most Pacific reefs are in reasonable to good condition with either healthy or recovering coral communities and reasonably intact coral reef fish and invertebrate populations. There are large numbers of coral reefs spread over vast areas of the Pacific that are remote from human pressures; these remain among the best preserved reefs in the world. Many of these reefs grow around low lying and uninhabited atolls with few human pressures and no runoff from the land. Recently, there have been active processes to declare many of these reefs as protected areas with considerable success.
This Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2008 report is the 5th global report since the GCRMN (Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network), was formed in 1996 as an operational network of the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI). 372 experts from 96 countries have contributed to this Status report. Many regional, national and local organisations, governmental, academic, NGO and volunteers have supported the functions of GCRMN.
The tsunamis of Sunday 26 December 2004 caught many people unprepared and unaware in Indian Ocean countries. This unexpected event struck without apparent warning on a clear day; many local people and tourists were on the beach and some walked over coral reef flats as the water receded to investigate a hidden realm. Within minutes, a series of massive waves returned to carry them away and invade the land. The tsunamis resulted in more than 250,000 people killed or missing and caused massive destruction to coastal resources and infrastructure. The focus in this book is on the impacts on the natural coastal resources, especially the coral reefs and associated ecosystems, and the responses by the international community.
This report continues the GCRMN Status Report series by documenting the devastating effects that the hottest summer and the most active hurricane season ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere had on the coral reefs of the Caribbean and Atlantic Basins. This Caribbean bleaching report includes chapters describing coral bleaching, the potential effects of ocean acidification, how hurricanes form and what actions coral reef managers can take when coral bleaching strikes. The report presents contributions from more than 80 coral reef scientists and managers and is another GCRMN contribution to the International Coral Reef Initiative and the International Year of the Reef.
The Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2004 report documents how human activities continue to be the primary cause of the global coral reef crisis. The report details many new initiatives aimed at reversing this degradation such as by conserving the biodiversity, the economic value and beauty of coral reefs. The report recognises that the major stresses to coral reefs are: natural forces that they have coped with for millions of years; direct human pressures, including sediment and nutrient pollution from the land, over-exploitation and damaging fishing practices, engineering modification of shorelines; and the global threats of climate change causing coral bleaching, rising sea levels and potentially threatening the ability of corals to form skeletons in more acid waters.
The 2002 report on the status of the world’s coral reefs is a mix of bad news and good news, but there is strong evidence that the corner is being turned in our ability to stop reef decline, provided this continues to be supported by sufficient political will. We can predict gains in coral reef health at specific sites in many regions within the coming 2 decades. Many different projects are reducing the damaging human impacts on coral reefs and also setting more reefs aside for protection. Unfortunately, a large proportion of the world’s reefs are outside protected areas, and much effort will be needed to replicate the small-scale successes at national and regional scales. In addition, many coral reef countries do not have national coral reef programs or monitoring plans, and are often unaware of the extent of damage to their reefs.
Coral reefs of the world have continued to decline since the previous GCRMN report in 1998. Assessments to late 2000 are that 27% of the world’s reefs have been effectively lost, with the largest single cause being the massive climate-related coral bleaching event of 1998. This destroyed about 16% of the coral reefs of the world in 9 months during the largest El Niño and La Niña climate changes ever recorded.
While there is a good chance that many of the 16% of damaged reefs will recover slowly, probably half of these reefs will never adequately recover. These will add to the 11% of the world’s reefs already lost due to human impacts such as sediment and nutrient pollution, over-exploitation and mining of sand and rock and development on, and ‘reclamation’ of, coral reefs.
This is the first report of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), formed in 1996 as an operational network of the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI). The catalyst for GCRMN was the inability of international agencies to report objectively on the health or otherwise of the world’s coral reefs. The US government then provided initial funding to set up a global network of coral reef workers to facilitate reporting on reef status; and has continued to be the major supporter of GCRMN and ICRI since the first strategies and action plans were developed in 1995.
The united goal is to inform the global community on the status of coral reefs, the threats to them and, importantly, to list recommendations to improve coral reef conservation. There is widespread recognition that action is needed urgently, not only to conserve the enormous biodiversity on coral reefs, but also to assist local user communities to improve their livelihoods by ensuring the sustainable use of the reefs.