TIME Environment

Report Sees a Glimmer of Hope for Coral Reefs

School of smallmouth grunts (Haemulon chrysargyreum) over the coral reef Curacao, Netherlands Antilles
School of smallmouth grunts (Haemulon chrysargyreum) over the coral reef, Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. UIG /Getty Images

A staggering decline but also a way to reverse it

The rapid decline in Caribbean coral reefs is a result of fewer grazing species, but the right action can still reverse the decline, according to a new report.

The Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012 report was conducted in a joint effort by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The rate of coral reef decline is staggering—almost 50% of reefs have disappeared since the 1970s, the report says. Researchers attribute the loss to the decline of reef grazers like the parrotfish and sea urchin.

“But this study brings some very encouraging news: the fate of Caribbean corals is not beyond our control and there are some very concrete steps that we can take to help them recover,” Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme, said in a statement.

Countries with restricted fishing and hunting bans have the healthiest reefs, helping to encourage the rejuvenation of grazing populations. The report encourages others to follow their lead.

“This is the kind of aggressive management that needs to be replicated regionally if we are going to increase the resilience of Caribbean reefs,” said Ayana Johnson of the Waitt Institute’s Blue Halo Initiative.

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