Corals facing the death sentence

Posted: 24 January 2008

Exceptionally warm water temperatures, combined with the effects of hurricanes, devastated a huge number of coral reefs in the Caribbean in 2005. And, scientists from the World Conservation Union warn, the same thing will undoubtedly reoccur, with catastrophic effects.

In a report issued today, outlining the damage caused, Carl Gustaf Lundin, Head of IUCN's Global Marine Programme, said: "Sadly for coral reefs, it's highly likely extreme warming will happen again. When it does, the impacts will be even more severe. If we don't do something about climate change, the reefs won't be with us for much longer."

Star coral bleaching
Star coral bleaching
Star coral bleaching and threatened elkhorn and staghorn corals, US Virgin Islands. Photo © IUCN/ Tyler B Smith
Among the worst hit regions of the Caribbean was the area stretching from Florida through to the French West Indies and the Cayman Islands, where in August 2005 severe bleaching affected between 50 - 95 per cent of coral colonies and killed more than half, particularly in the Lesser Antilles.

The report warns that the only way for corals on reefs around the world to survive is to manage direct pressures, such as fishing and pollution, then hope that some coral species are able to adapt to a warmer environment.

Income threatened

Not only are coral reefs a vital part of the marine ecosystem, they also bring in huge amounts of money. Caribbean coral reefs provide an estimated US$3.1 billion to $4.6 billion per year from fisheries, dive tourism and shoreline protection services.

"This is a pivotal moment for coral reefs," say the report's authors Clive Wilkinson and David Souter. "A dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the next 20 years will be critical to control further warming and dangerously high CO2 levels that will reduce the robustness of corals."

The report marks the beginning of the International Year of the Reef 2008, a worldwide campaign to raise awareness about the value of coral reefs and the threats they face. It also aims to motivate people to take action to protect them.

For an executive summary of the full report, 'Status of Caribbean Coral Reefs after Bleaching and Hurricanes in 2005', please click here

Related links:

Carbon emissions could destroy coral reefs by 2050

World Ocean Observatory

Pacific coral reefs dying faster than expected

Coral reefs facfile