6/7 of Caribbean Coral is Dead

Earthsky.org reports: On September 7, 2012 the IUCN released a preliminary report describing the conditions of coral reefs in seven different countries located in the Caribbean.

Among the countries, coral reefs in Bonaire, Curacao and the Cayman Islands showed the least amount of loss, and live coral cover currently ranges from about 20 to 28% in these areas. Reefs in Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Florida Keys and the US Virgin Islands were found to be the worst off with live coral cover currently ranging from as little as 8 to 10%.

Elkhorn coral with white band disease. Image Credit: Andy Bruckner, NOAA.
Species of Staghorn and Elkhorn corals in Caribbean have been particularly hard hit by white band disease, the report notes. White band disease is a disease in corals whereby live coral tissue dies off leaving behind a discolored band that consists of the corals’ white calcium carbonate skeleton.

Jeremy Jackson, Science Director of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, and his co-authors of the report commented that:

Caribbean reefs with the highest surviving coral cover and least macroalgae tend to be characterized by little land-based pollution, some degree of fisheries regulations and enforcement, moderate economic prosperity, and lower frequency of hurricanes, coral bleaching, and disease. Unraveling the potential interactive role of these and other factors is a major goal of our study once all the necessary data are available.

I try to stay optimistic, but nobody can bring you down quite as hard and fast as Dr Jeremy Jackson, for whom I nevertheless have the greatest possible admiration.

Here is the report (PDF).


  1. Well 8 % is 1/7 of the 56% baseline, so I think the thrust of what I said is okay. What's more, that's the sort of thing that could only reassure somebody who was already horrified. Meanwhile there's Freier et al "Limiting global warming to 2 °C is unlikely to save most coral reefs" just out in Nature Climate Change.

    "we provide a comprehensive global study of coral bleaching in terms of global mean temperature change, based on an extended set of emissions scenarios and models. We show that preserving >10% of coral reefs worldwide would require limiting warming to below 1.5 °C "

  2. Pingback: Another Week of GW News, September 16, 2012 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  3. A New York Times op-ed from Australian ecologist Roger Bradbury says that all the coral is as good as dead. Perhaps we'd best find something else to be optimistic about?

    Overfishing, ocean acidification and pollution are pushing coral reefs into oblivion. Each of those forces alone is fully capable of causing the global collapse of coral reefs; together, they assure it. The scientific evidence for this is compelling and unequivocal, but there seems to be a collective reluctance to accept the logical conclusion — that there is no hope of saving the global coral reef ecosystem. ...

    This is less a conspiracy than a sort of institutional inertia. Governments don’t want to be blamed for disasters on their watch, conservationists apparently value hope over truth, and scientists often don’t see the reefs for the corals. But by persisting in the false belief that coral reefs have a future, we grossly misallocate the funds needed to cope with the fallout from their collapse. ...

    Coral reefs will be the first, but certainly not the last, major ecosystem to succumb to the Anthropocene — the new geological epoch now emerging. That is why we need an enormous reallocation of research, government and environmental effort to understand what has happened so we can respond the next time we face a disaster of this magnitude. It will be no bad thing to learn how to do such ecological engineering now.

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