New research shows that many coral reefs in the Caribbean are either no longer growing or starting to erode.
The structure of coral reefs is made by producing and accumulating calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Coral reefs continue to grow as long as the addition of calcium carbonate exceeds rates of erosion. Researchers have recently discovered new evidence revealing that the amount of new carbonate being added to Caribbean coral reefs is significantly lower than rates measured over the past 7,000 years.
“Our estimates of current rates of reef growth in the Caribbean are extremely alarming. Our study goes beyond only examining how much coral there is, to also look at the delicate balance of biological factors which determine whether coral reefs will continue to grow or will erode,” explained Professor Chris Perry of the University of Exeter, who led the research.
The international research team found that in waters around 10 meters (33 ft) in depth, reef growth rates declined by 25 percent compared to regional averages. In waters around 5 meters (about 16 ft) in depth, growth rates have reduced by 60-70 percent.
“Our findings clearly show that recent ecological declines are now suppressing the growth potential of reefs in the region, and that this will have major implications for their ability to respond positively to future sea level rises,” Perry said.
“It is most concerning that many coral reefs across the Caribbean have seemingly lost their capacity to produce enough carbonate to continue growing vertically, whilst others are already at a threshold where they may start to erode,” he continued. “At the moment there is limited evidence of large-scale erosion or loss of actual reef structure, but clearly if these trends continue, reef erosion looks far more likely. Urgent action to improve management of reef habitats and to limit global temperature increases is likely to be critical to reduce further deterioration of reef habitat.”
To learn more:
- Read the full news release: New evidence highlights threat to Caribbean coral reef growth
- Find the study, published in Nature Communications, here: Caribbean-wide decline in carbonate production threatens coral reef growth
- Check out this article about coral diseases in the Caribbean
Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.