Caribbean corals face extinction

Caribbean corals are in danger of extinction because of warmer waters caused by climate change, a new study has revealed.

Dr Michael L Smith, director of the Caribbean Biodiversity Initiative at Conservation International, said: “One of the Atlantic Ocean’s most beautiful marine habitats no longer exists in many places because of dramatic increases in coral diseases, mostly caused by climate change and warmer waters.”

The study by 23 scientists in Dominica in March analysed data on Western Tropical Atlantic corals, seagrasses, mangroves and algae.

They are fundamental components of marine ecosystems providing food and shelter for numerous other organisms and local communities.

It found ten percent of the area’s 62 reef-building corals were under threat, including Staghorn and Elkhorn corals.

Once among the most prominent of species they are now candidates for Critically Endangered status on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) 2008 Red List of Threatened Species.

The study is part of the Global Marine Species Assessment (GMSA) – a partnership between Conservation International and the World Conservation Union – to review the status of marine species and provide up-to-date information for conservation efforts.

Dr Suzanne Livingstone, GMSA programme officer, said: “Coral reefs support some of the richest areas of biodiversity in the world.

“When the coral reefs disappear, so will many other species which rely on reefs for shelter, reproduction and foraging.”

Threats to corals include coastal pollution, human development and climate change stresses such as warmer water and more intense weather.

While scientists note some healthy Caribbean coral reefs still exist in protected marine areas they warn global warming will affect all corals and must be reversed if they are to survive.

Dr Kent Carpenter, GMSA director, said: “The Caribbean tourism industry relies heavily on the beauty and health of its sea life.

“Concentrated marine conservation and a global effort to halt man-induced climate change are necessary to preserve this vital economic engine in the region.”

David Gibbs

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie