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Time running out for Caribbean coral reefs

Time is running out for Coral reefs in the Caribbean. Photo courtesy IUCN/William Goodwin.

Live coral cover has dropped to just 8 percent

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Leading conservation experts used the stage of the IUCN’s quadrennial global summit meeting to once again draw attention to the plight of Caribbean coral reef ecosystems, under pressure from global warming, pollution and overfishing.

Time is running out for reefs in the region, said Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme, explaining that average live coral cover on Caribbean reefs has declined to just 8 percent of the reefs today, compared with more than 50 percent in the 1970s according to the report’s findings.

The rate 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,” Lundin said. “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.”

The 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 , 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, 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,” said Jeremy Jackson, science director for the reef monitoring network. “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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