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Maps pinpoint reefs at risk
Web Posted Tuesday, June 23, 1998
at 10:48 AM ET
By Environmental News Network staff
Nearly 60 percent of the Earth's coral reefs are threatened by human activity, and the loss of resources associated with those reefs will have an extremely negative impact on the global economy if something isn't done to prevent it, according to a report released today by the World Resources Institute.
More than 80 percent of the coral reefs of Southeast Asia are at risk. These reefs are a global center of marine biodiversity, harboring fully a quarter of all the world's fish species.
The report, a map-based global assessment of coral reefs and human-made threats to these ecosystems, concludes that while reefs provide billions of people and hundreds of countries with food, tourism revenue, coastal protection and new medications for increasingly drug-resistant diseases -- worth about $375 billion each year -- they are among the least monitored and protected natural habitats in the world.
The study divides the threats into four broad categories: coastal development; overexploitation and destructive fishing practices (including blast and cyanide fishing); impacts from inland pollution and erosion; and marine-based pollution. Key findings of the report include:
"Like rainforests, reefs harbor much of the planet's wealth of species and are being rapidly degraded by humans," says WRI senior associate and report coauthor Dirk Bryant, "yet we know far less about the health of reefs than we do of rainforests. This study sheds new light on the status of reef ecosystems, and the news is grim."
- Coral reefs of Southeast Asia, the most species-rich on Earth, are the most threatened of any region. More than 80 percent are at risk, primarily from coastal development and fishing-related pressures. These reefs are a global center of marine biodiversity, harboring fully a quarter of all the world's fish species.
- Most United States reefs are threatened. Almost all of the reefs off Florida are at risk from a range of factors, including runoff of fertilizers and pollutants from farms and coastal development. Almost half of Hawaii's reefs are vulnerable, while virtually all of Puerto Rico's reefs are threatened.
- Almost two-thirds of Caribbean reefs are in jeopardy. Most of the reefs on the Antilles chain, including the islands of Jamaica, Barbados, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are at high risk. Reefs off Jamaica, for example, have been ravaged as a result of overfishing and pollution. Many resemble graveyards, algae-covered and depleted of fish.
- One fifth of all animal protein consumed by humans comes from the sea. For instance, reefs provide fish and seafood for 1 billion people in Asia alone, many of them among the planet's most impoverished citizens.
- Coral reef species hold promise for scientists seeking new drugs to combat disease. For instance, according to one estimate, marine species are a major focus of new cancer research.
- Overexploitation and coastal development pose the greatest potential threat of the four risk categories considered in this study.
To hear an audio broadcast on the study "Reefs at Risk," see maps, text and coral reef images, visit World Resources Institute.
In its economic analysis, the report goes on to point out that more than 100 countries benefit from reef related tourism. For example, countries in the Caribbean, on average, derive half of their GNP from the tourism industry, valued at $8.9 billion in 1990, and Florida's reefs pump $1.6 billion into the economy each year from tourism alone. Reefs are also a vital source of food for many of the world's developing countries.
President Clinton recently pledged $6 million to restore degraded reefs as part of the U.S. Year of the Ocean effort. Sylvia A. Earle, explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, writes in the foreword to Reefs at Risk: "The fate of coral reefs, the ocean and humankind 40 years from now and forevermore will depend on the intelligence, motivation and caring of people now alive."
The Reefs at Risk study was produced by WRI through a partnership with the International Center for Living Aquatic Resource Management, the World Conservation Monitoring Centre and the United Nations Environment Programme.