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Tuesday, 27 March, 2001, 07:55 GMT 08:55 UK
Coral reefs return to Caribbean
Coral reef off Fiji AP
Removing weed from corals might trigger regrowth
Scientists have found evidence that coral reefs in the Caribbean are starting to regenerate, following decades of decline.

Reefs off the north coast of Jamaica have begun to grow again after sea urchins returned to the area, grazing on harmful seaweed.

The team that made the discovery say the two factors could hold the key to reversing damage caused to Caribbean coral reefs by natural and manmade factors.

But they warn that the future for most coral reefs around the world remains gloomy.

The reefs in question are found in shallow water off the north coast of Jamaica.

Coral death

Between 1977 and 1993, coral growth in the area plummeted from 52% to 3%, while the amount of seaweed increased rapidly.

Bleached coral reef AP
Coral bleaching is associated with a warming climate
Various factors have been blamed, including overfishing, severe weather events such as hurricanes and the unexplained death of millions of sea urchins.

In a new study, biologists at California State University, Northridge, California, US, measured the number and size of juvenile corals in the area, as well as the number of sea urchins and the amount of seaweed overgrowth.

They found that the reefs were starting to regrow, perhaps because of the presence of sea urchins grazing on harmful algae.

Reef recovery

The researchers, Peter Edmunds and Robert Carpenter, report their findings in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But they warn that other coral reefs are so badly damaged they are unlikely to recover.

"The coral reefs of Jamaica have been at the forefront of reports of ecosystem collapse, and predictions of the future for most reefs remain gloomy," they write.

"Although our results should not be construed to mean that reef recovery is inevitable throughout the western Atlantic, this study does provide good news about the recovery of highly degraded Caribbean coral reefs."

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