Valuable coral reefs under siege
Thursday 16 December 2004
At a symposium being held today, 16 December, 2004, at the Zoological Society of London, top coral reef experts are meeting to discuss the alarming rates of decline and formulate an action plan to prevent the demise of these important ecosystems. With approximately 20% of coral reefs already destroyed, it is thought that close to 50% may be close to collapse
Coral reefs are critically important for the goods and services they provide to millions of people, with a global value estimated at $375 billion per year. Research presented at the symposium shows that not enough money and effort are being put into this important economic and environmental asset.
"Coral reefs provide a source of food and income, act as natural coastal defences and support a huge tourist industry which is of particular importance in developing countries," said Dr Isabelle Côté, a co-organiser of the conference from the University of East Anglia. "The conservation of these reefs is vital not just because of their obvious beauty and biological significance, but because they have a huge economic value too."
Research has shown that in the Philippines the economic value of fisheries on degraded reefs is one-third the value for healthy reefs. In Hawaii, coral reefs are estimated to be worth US$10 billion per year, mostly from tourism.
"Reefs suffer from over fishing, pollution and outbreaks of disease and coral bleaching, which may be linked to climate change. By bringing together world authorities on coral reefs, we want to find options to restore reefs and the benefits that they provide," added Professor John Reynolds, a co-organiser.
The conference will be opened by the UK's Minister of Conservation and Fisheries, Ben Bradshaw. The topics addressed include:
- Benefits from coral reefs
- The global problem - status and threats to coral reefs
- Action for achieving sustainable use
The Zoological Society of London
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Notes to Editors
Current status of coral reefs
- 20% of the world's coral reefs have been effectively destroyed
- The mass coral bleaching event of 1998, which was caused by high sea temperatures, damaged 16% of the world's reefs in a single year
- 40% of these reefs are recovering well but the rest are not recovering, either because the damage was so great or because human pressures are preventing recovery
- 24% of the world's remaining reefs are under imminent risk of collapse through human pressures (an increase of 8% on the 2000 estimates)
- A further 26% are under a longer term threat of collapse (also up by 8% on the 2000 estimates)
- The main causes of coral reef decline are increasing human pressures; poor land management practices that release sediments, nutrients and pollutants into the sea; over-fishing and destructive fishing; and coastal development
- Additional threats to coral reefs include coral diseases, outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish and other coral predators, and invasive introduced species
- An overarching concern is global climate change; a 1oC increase in temperature can trigger mass coral bleaching and mortality. Storms are also predicted to increase in frequency and intensity, leading to coral damage. Rising acidity in the seawater will slow coral calcification
- The symposium is co-funded by the Zoological Society of London and the Fisheries Conservation Foundation (USA), and organised by researchers from the University of East Anglia
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