Collapse of Coral Reefs – impacts on human activities

I used to read the State of the World Reports in the 1990’s and they were always opining about this or that collapsing and the urgency of the need to address this or that situation.  I have not done the research to validate those claims made at the time, but in my view the fear argument does not work as well any more to motivate people to act to improve the situation when it comes to our impact on the world that we live in.  While coral reefs are facing collapse…my point in linking to this article is more the implications of this reef collapse and risks from climate change on the activities that these reefs support.

“Caribbean coral reefs – which make up one of the world’s most colourful, vivid and productive ecosystems – are on the verge of collapse, with less than 10% of the reef area showing live coral cover. With so little growth left, the reefs are in danger of utter devastation unless urgent action is taken, conservationists warned. They said the drastic loss was the result of severe environmental problems, including over-exploitation, pollution from agricultural run-off and other sources, and climate change. The decline of the reefs has been rapid: in the 1970s, more than 50% showed live coral cover, compared with 8% in the newly completed survey. The scientists who carried it out warned there was no sign of the rate of coral death slowing. Coral reefs are a particularly valuable part of the marine ecosystem because they act as nurseries for younger fish, providing food sources and protection from predators until the fish have grown large enough to fend better for themselves. They are also a source of revenue from tourism and leisure.”

Risks from reef collapse could impact food sources of local people, the fishery sector as well as of course tourism and leisure including diving and snorkeling.  It would be interesting to see how the snorkelling and diving sectors have changed over the last few years.  Has the sector shifted from locations where there used to be good diving to newer more remote locations because the reefs there have not yet collapsed.  What does this decreased tourism activity have on the local economies, have they diversified or have they not yet seen any impact because the diving and snorkelling sectors are relatively small compared to the other tourism sectors?

People may argue that “who cares about the impact of coral reefs on human activities?”  I guess my point is that action will be taken to address climate change and other elements of the natural world if we can link them in a direct manner to values and activities that we as humans partake in these areas.

Some additional excerpts from this article:

Carl Gustaf Lundin, director of the global marine and polar programme at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which published the research, said: “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. Looking forward, there is an urgent need to immediately and drastically reduce all human impacts [in the area] if coral reefs and the vitally important fisheries that depend on them are to survive in the decades to come.”

Warnings over the poor state of the world’s coral reefs have become more frequent in the past decades as pollution, increasing pressure on fish stocks, and the effects of global warming on the marine environment – in the form of higher sea temperatures and slightly elevated levels of acidity in the ocean – have taken their toll.

Last year, scientists estimated that 75% of the Caribbean’s coral reefs were in danger, along with 95% of those in south-east Asia. That research, from the World Resources Institute, predicted that by 2050 virtually all of the world’s coral reefs would be in danger.

This decline is likely to have severe impacts on coastal villages, particularly in developing countries, where many people depend on the reefs for fishing and tourism. Globally, about 275 million people live within 19 miles of a reef.

IUCN, which is holding its quadrennial World Conservation Congress on Jeju island in South Korea this week, said swift action was vital. The organisation called for catch quotas to limit fishing, more marine-protected areas where fishing would be banned, and measures that would halt the run-off of fertilisers from farmland around the coast. To save reefs around the world, moves to stave off global warming would also be needed, the group said.

On a few of the more remote Caribbean reefs, the situation is less dire. In the Netherlands Antilles, Cayman Islands and a few other places, the die-off has been slower, with up to 30% coverage of live coral still remaining. The scientists noted that these reefs were in areas less exposed to human impact from fishing and pollution, as well as to natural disasters such as hurricanes.

The report – compiled by 36 scientists from 18 countries – was the work of the IUCN-coordinated Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network.

via Caribbean coral reefs face collapse | Environment | guardian.co.uk.

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