Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Corals Fail

The world's coral reefs are in alarming decline, and a recent groundbreaking study singles out human settlement, especially coastal development and agriculture, as the main culprit, even more so than warming sea waters and acidification linked to global warming.

The study found that declining reefs are endangering species of wildlife as well as tourism and fishing, which are vital for the local economy", says Camilo Mora, of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. This meant continuing degradation of coral reefs may be soon beyond repair. And there certainly won't be enough time for second or third chances.

In the study, Mora decided to compare several large-scale databases that had never been systematically cross-referenced. Focusing on coral, fish and macro-algae, or seaweed, in 322 sites across 13 countries in the Caribbean, the study matched environmental and ecological data against patterns of human population density and land usage. Also included were data on hurricanes, biodiversity, fish population and coral disease. What was discovered was the number of people is the main driver of the mortality of coral, along with declining fish biomass and increases in algae.

Even more interestingly, different kinds of human activities had different impacts. Higher population density in coastal areas produces more sewage and depletes fish stocks, causing coral mortality. Human expansion in coastal areas disrupted the maintenance of complex ecosystems and while Marine Protected Areas help restore fish populations, they do nothing to protect coral life. Right now, a- fifth of the world's marine reefs have already been destroyed and more are threatened, causing problems for many species that depend on reefs for shelter, reproduction and foraging.

These coral reefs also provide livelihoods for 100 million people and form the basis for industries such as tourism and fishing, which is a multi-billion industry. So, the next time a plot comes up along the coast for development, lets be very aware of how we are changing the ecological landscape of marine and coral life.


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