A third of world's coral reefs face extinction

Posted: 14 July 2008

Author: Henrylito Tacio

One third of the reef-building corals around the world are facing extinction, according to the first comprehensive global assessment to determine their conservation status. Contributing editor Henrylito Tacio reports from Florida.

Pink soft coral
Pink soft coral
Pink soft coral on reef. Photo © Chuck Savall
This finding, revealed at the recently concluded 11th International Coral Reef Symposium by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), also found that, next to frogs, coral reefs are the most threatened species on the planet. "The results are very disconcerting," said Dr. Kent Carpenter, who headed the study. "When corals die off, so do the other plants and animals that depend for food and shelter, and this can lead to the collapse of entire ecosystems." The global assessment is a collaborative effort of IUCN and the Conservation International (CI). Thirty-nine experts applied the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria to determine the status of the species in the sea.

Profound implications Corals reefs can be found in most parts of the world. But the diversity is far greater in the Indo-Pacific, particularly around Indonesia, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea. Many other groups of marine fauna show similar patterns, with a much greater diversity in the Indo-Pacific region. "The loss of the corals will have profound implications for millions of people who depend on coral reefs for their livelihoods," said Roger McManus, CI's vice president for marine programmes. Coral reefs also generate millions of dollars in tourism and employment. According to the Washington-based World Resources Institute (WRI), the total economic value of reefs in the Philippines is estimated at US$1.1 billion annually. In Indonesia, the reefs generate an annual income of US$1.6 billion. Caribbean dangers

The IUCN/CI assessment considered staghorn (Acroporid) corals as having the "highest risk of extinction," with 52 per cent of species listed in a threatened category. Corals from the genera Favia and Porites were found to be "the least threatened" due to their relatively higher resistance to bleaching and disease. The Caribbean region has been identified as having the highest number of "highly threatened corals (endangered and critically endangered). The high biodiversity of the Indo-Pacific region has "the highest proportions of vulnerable and near-threatened species." The growing populations living in these areas were cited as the culprit. Henrylito Tacio has been reporting on the Coral Reef Symposium for this website. See his other reports on the Coasts and Oceans section of this website.

Related links:

Global Marine Species Assessment (GMSA)

IUCN Red List

Too Precious to Wear