Report: Caribbean Coral Reefs May Disappear In 20 Years

Figure 2 from the new report: Phase shift from dominance by corals to dominance by macroalgae on the shallow fore-reefs in the northern Florida Keys and north 
coast of Jamaica. (A) Discovery Bay, Jamaica in 1975 and (C) the same location in 2013. (B) Carysfort Reef within the Florida Keys National Marine 
Sanctuary in 1975 and (D) in 2004. (A, B, D by Phillip Dustan, and C by Robert Steneck)

Corals in the Caribbean have declined by more than 50 percent since 1970, according to a new comprehensive survey, and are down to about one-sixth of their historic area.

The report is the work of dozens of experts who analyzed massive troves of data from around the Caribbean Sea. The scientists conclude that the coral reefs in the area are declining rapidly, and the key drivers are local factors: overfishing, tourism, population growth and the collapse of the parrot fish population.

Scientist Jeremy Jackson, lead author of the report and senior adviser on coral reefs to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), wrote: “Even if we could somehow make climate change disappear tomorrow, these reefs would continue their decline.”

Nancy Knowlton, a leading marine biologist, told Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson that while we have lost a lot of living coral, “the more important message from this report is that there are actually places that are doing quite well, places where people and government have decided to take care of coral reefs. So while I think you can cast this as a gloom and doom report, there is actually an optimist message, that we know how to take care of coral reefs.”



  • Nancy Knowlton, Sant Chair for Marine Science at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
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