Scientists everywhere are frantically fretting over the fact that Caribbean coral reefs are declining at an alarming rate, but a new study shows that there may be some hope yet. The answer lies in the conservation of reef grazers like the parrotfish and sea urchin.
The report, Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012, 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).
Caribbean corals have been declining at a staggering rate - more than 50 percent have disappeared since the 1970s, and a recent report - detailed in a Nature World News article - notes that the majority of them will be wiped out entirely within the next two decades.
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 that restrict fishing and hunting have been shown to have some of the healthiest reefs, also helping to restore the population of these colorful fish. The US Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the northern Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda and Bonaire are examples of areas where coral reefs are flourishing.
"This is the kind of aggressive management that needs to be replicated regionally if we are going to increase the resilience of Caribbean reefs," added Ayana Johnson of the Waitt Institute's Blue Halo Initiative, which is collaborating with Bermuda on a management plan.
Both the parrotfish and sea urchin are herbivores that feed off of algae, but due to overfishing their numbers have dropped, thereby allowing algae to essentially choke and kill off coral reefs.
This report highlights the urgent need to preserve one species in order to save another.
"We urge Caribbean nations to work together and respond to the Caribbean coral reef crisis through joint actions, including protecting parrotfish under the Protocol on specially protected areas and wildlife of the Cartagena Convention," concluded Jerker Tamelander, head of the UNEP coral reef unit.
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