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Caribbean Coral Loss a 'Catastrophic Collapse'

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By Deena Shanker, Revmodo.com

The news has not been good this year for our oceans. We are seeing one report after another tracking the demise of sea life. The latest victim will be missed by environmentalists and scuba diving tourists alike. Findings from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) show major coral losses in reefs in the Caribbean and the Florida Keys.

A group of 36 scientists from 18 countries launched the Tropical Americas Coral Reef Resilience Workshop to track coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean. They found that reefs in some areas in the Caribbean are faring fine – the reef ecosystem in the Cayman Islands, for example, is “relatively intact compared to average conditions in the region.” But in other places, like Jamaica and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the coral cover falls below 10 percent (compared to 30 percent in the Caymans), there is a dangerous level of microalgae and “virtually no fish larger than a few centimeters.” Total coral in the Florida Keys, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico “has progressively declined from 25 to 35 percent in the 1970s to less than 15 percent today.” The report calls it a “catastrophic collapse.”

While the workshop team is careful not to point fingers at any one cause, it says that “human exploitation and disturbance” play an “obvious role.” It notes that the healthiest reefs are in places with low levels of land pollution, some regulation and enforcement of fisheries’ practices, some financial prosperity, and “lower frequency of hurricanes, coral bleaching and disease.” But it stops short there, saying they need to do more research.

Even if the exact causes are still up for debate, the consequences of inaction are not. Warning that “time s running out for corals on the Caribbean reefs,” the IUCN is calling for urgent measures to cut pollution and aggressive fishing methods. What can you do? Start by eating less fish.

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