“Urgent Action” Required to Save Caribbean Reefs

Written by on January 30, 2013 in Coral Reefs, Marine Life, Physical Oceanography
A healthy coral reef in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands.

A healthy coral reef in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. Photo credit: NOAA.

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.”

Fish feeding over a coral reef near the Caribbean island of Bonaire.

Fish feeding over a coral reef near the Caribbean island of Bonaire. Photo credit: NOAA Bonaire 2008 Expedition.

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Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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  1. Savetheoceans says:

    This does not surprise me at all… It’s sad but all it takes to kill coral is literally the touch of human hands. Hopefully The Lost Atlantis has an amazing collection of reefs it can lend us when we destroy all of ours 🙂