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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 September, 2004, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
Alarm sounded for Caribbean coral
Coral (World Resources Institute)
If the coral diminishes so will the dive tourism that it attracts
Conservationists say nearly two-thirds of the Caribbean's coral reefs are threatened by human activities.

The Washington DC-based World Resources Institute says the reefs are struggling to cope with overfishing and runoff of pollution and sediments from the land.

Bleaching caused by warming waters, disease from new pathogens, and damage from storms also pose difficulties.

The WRI says local economies and the environment will suffer if the reefs are allowed to deteriorate further.

The institute's report, Reefs At Risk In The Caribbean, is timely given the current focus on the region because of hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne.

"Hurricanes have been important in shaping the Caribbean. Reefs can recover from these storms, but not necessarily, and they're less likely to recover with all the added stress from other sources," report co-author Jon Maidens said. "This has economic implications."

Maidens, lead author Lauretta Burke and colleagues have calculated that continuing degradation of the region's coral reefs could reduce net annual revenues from dive tourism - which provided an estimated $2.1bn in 2000 - by as much as US$300m per year by 2015.

The authors also estimate the reefs to provide goods and services with an annual net economic value in 2000 between $3.1bn and $4.6bn from fisheries, dive tourism, fisheries and shoreline protection services.

The WRI team calls for "the establishment of better management practices to encourage sustainable fisheries, to protect reefs from direct damage, and to integrate the sometimes conflicting approaches to management in the watersheds and adjacent waters around coral reefs".

"Fundamental to supporting these actions is wider involvement of the public and stakeholders in the management process, as well as an improved level of understanding of the importance of coral reefs."

Last year, a wide-ranging analysis of reef decline in the Caribbean was published in the online journal Science Express.

A UK-led team, from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, found that average hard coral cover on reefs in the region had reduced by 80% in three decades.

Hard coral is the main component of a reef: it is the substance on which soft corals like sea fans, and other species, are able to grow.

These authors also cited damage caused by hurricanes and disease, and by factors of human origin, including overfishing, pollution, and smothering by sediments released by soil erosion and deforestation on land.

Acid oceans spell doom for coral
29 Aug 04  |  Science/Nature
Ancient life on cold-water corals
04 Jun 04  |  Science/Nature
Deep-sea corals protection call
16 Feb 04  |  Science/Nature
Action needed to save coral reefs
13 Feb 04  |  Science/Nature
Caribbean coral suffers 'phenomenal' loss
17 Jul 03  |  Science/Nature

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