Magazine article The Futurist

More Trouble for Coral Reefs: Overfishing and Climate Change Threaten Reef Systems

Magazine article The Futurist

More Trouble for Coral Reefs: Overfishing and Climate Change Threaten Reef Systems

Article excerpt

Caribbean reefs have lost 80% of their coral cover in the past three decades, a rate of loss that exceeds that for tropical forests, according to researchers at the University of East Anglia. Only 10% of the reefs on average are now covered by hard corals, the living creatures that build the reef framework.

The decline is caused by both natural phenomena, such as hurricanes and disease, and human activity, such as overfishing, pollution, and sedimentation. The consequences of reef decline include a loss of biodiversity, collapse of reef-associated fisheries, dwindling tourism, and less protection of coasts against storms.

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The trends affecting coral reefs appear to be very long term, say researchers studying the ecological histories of 14 coral reef systems around the world. Most of the reef ecosystems were actually degraded before the twentieth century, when outbreaks of coral disease and bleaching began to attract the attention of reef watchers, according to a team of scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The chronic problem for reefs, they conclude, is not disease but overfishing.

"Looking at historical records can redefine what normal is and redefine what restoration targets should be," says Deborah McArdle, one of the study's authors. …

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