75 percent of world’s coral reefs under threat: report

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

WASHINGTON - About 75 percent of the world’s coral reefs are threatened by overfishing, coastal development, pollution, rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification, a report released Wednesday said.

Named “Reefs at Risk Revisited”, the report was released by the World Resources Institute (WRI) along with the Nature Conservancy, the WorldFish Center and a network of over 25 other organizations, Xinhua reported.

“This report serves as a wake-up call for policy-makers, business leaders, ocean managers, and others about the urgent need for greater protection for coral reefs,” said Jane Lubchenco, head of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“As the report makes clear, local and global threats, including climate change, are already having significant impacts on coral reefs, putting the future of these beautiful and valuable ecosystems at risk.”

Local pressures — especially overfishing and destructive fishing — are causing many reefs to be degraded. Global pressures are leading to coral bleaching from rising sea temperatures and increasing ocean acidification from carbon dioxide pollution.

According to the new analysis, if left unchecked, over 90 percent of reefs will be threatened by 2030 and nearly all reefs will be at risk by 2050.

“Coral reefs are valuable resources for millions of people worldwide. Despite the dire situation for many reefs, there is reason for hope,” said Lauretta Burke, senior associate at WRI and a lead author of the report.

“Reefs are resilient, and by reducing the local pressures we can buy time as we find global solutions to preserve reefs for future generations.”

For the first time, the report identifies 27 countries most socially and economically vulnerable to coral reef degradation and loss. Among these, the nine most vulnerable ones are: Haiti, Grenada, Philippines, Comoros, Vanuatu, Tanzania, Kiribati, Fiji, and Indonesia.

The report also includes multiple recommendations to better protect and manage reefs, including through marine protected areas. The analysis shows that more than one-quarter of reefs are already encompassed in a range of parks and reserves, more than any other marine habitat. However, only six percent of reefs are in protected areas that are effectively managed.

“Well managed marine protected areas are one of the best tools to safeguard reefs,” said Mark Spalding, senior marine scientist at the Nature Conservancy and one of the authors of the report.

“At their core, reefs are about people as well as nature: ensuring stable food supplies, promoting recovery from coral bleaching, and acting as a magnet for tourist dollars. We need to apply the knowledge, we have to shore up existing protected areas, as well as to designate new sites where threats are highest, such as the populous hearts of the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, East Africa and the Middle East.”

Reefs offer multiple benefits to people and the economy — providing food, sustaining livelihoods, supporting tourism, protecting coasts, and even helping to prevent disease.

According to the report, more than 275 million people live in the direct vicinity (30 km) of coral reefs. In more than 100 countries and territories, coral reefs protect 150,000 km of shorelines, helping defend coastal communities and infrastructure against storms and erosion.

The report is an update of “Reefs at Risk”, released by WRI in 1998, which served as an important resource for policymakers to understand and address the threats of reefs.

The new report uses the latest data and satellite information to map coral reefs, including a reef map with a resolution 64 times higher than the original report.

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