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THE CARIBBEAN
Coral reefs could disappear in 20 years
Latinamerica Press
7/10/2014
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Coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea have declined more than 50 percent since 1970.

With only a sixth of their original cover left, the Caribbean coral reefs could disappear in the next 20 years, ensures the report the Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012, published on July 2 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nation (IUCN), and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).

The disappearance of herbivorous fish in the Caribbean Sea is the main reason for the loss of corals in the region, maintains the report.

“The Caribbean coral reefs have suffered massive losses of corals since the early 1980s due to a wide range of human impacts including explosive human population growth, overfishing, coastal pollution, global warming, and invasive species. The consequences include widespread collapse of coral populations, increases in large seaweeds (macroalgae), outbreaks of coral bleaching and disease, and failure of corals to recover from natural disturbances such as hurricanes,” states the document.

Initially, the scientific community had considered the warming of the ocean as a result of climate change to be the main cause of the disappearance of the coral reefs. However, the study reveals that the biggest threat is the loss of marine fauna, which is a natural defense against the invasion of algae and other species.

According to the study, “artisanal fishing for subsistence is crucial to most Caribbean economies but the consequences have been catastrophic for coral reefs. Overfishing caused steep reductions in herbivores, especially large parrotfishes, which are the most effective grazers on Caribbean reefs but vulnerable to all gear types except hook and line.”

The near disappearance of the parrotfish and sea urchin (diadema antillarum) have disturbed the delicate balance of the coral ecosystem. Both species consume algae and thus do not allow it to proliferate.

Recover parrotfish population
Jeremy Jackson, the main author of the report, pointed out that “even if we could somehow make climate change disappear tomorrow, these reefs would continue to decline. We must immediately address the grazing problem for the reefs and stand any chance of surviving future climate shifts.”

The study indicates that the healthiest coral reefs are those located where there is a larger population of parrotfish, including the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (United States) in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Bonaire and Barbuda islands, where fishing practices that endanger this species, including traps and submarine fishing, have been restricted or banned.

On the other hand, in Jamaica, Florida and the Virgin Islands (United States), where parrotfish are not protected, the coral reefs have greatly deteriorated.

Carl Gustav Lundin, Director of the IUCN Global Marine and Polar Programme, ensures that “the rate at which the Caribbean coral have been declining is truly alarming. But this study brings some very encouraging news: the fate of Caribbean coral is not beyond our control and there are some very concrete steps we can take to help them recover.”

The following are among the steps to take that the report recommends: adopt conservation and fisheries management strategies that lead to the restoration of parrotfish populations and so restore the balance between algae and coral that characterizes healthy coral reefs; maximize the effect of those management strategies by incorporating necessary resources for outreach, compliance, enforcement and the examination of alternative livelihoods for those that may be affected by restrictions on the take of parrotfish; consider listing the parrotfish in the list of species of the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife in addition to highlighting the issue of reef herbivory in relevant Caribbean fisheries fora; and engage with indigenous and local communities and other stakeholders to communicate the benefits of such strategies for coral reef ecosystems, the replenishment of fisheries stocks and communities’ economy.
—Latinamerica Press.


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