Last year we were suitably shocked by news that Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef had lost over half of its coral in the past 27 years. The loss is attributed to tropical cyclones (48%) coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish (43%) and coral bleaching (10%).

A recent survey on Caribbean coral reefs provides even worse results: an 80% loss in recent years. The Catlin Survey measured reefs in waters off Belize, Mexico, Bermuda, Anguilla, St. Vincent, Guadeloupe, Turks & Caicos and the Bahamas.

From the Guardian:

The Caribbean was chosen to launch the global mission because it is at the frontline of risk. Over the last 50 years 80% of the corals have been lost due mainly coastal development and pollution. They now are also threatened by invasive species, global warming and the early effects of ocean acidification — it’s the perfect storm

–Richard Vevers, director, Catlin Survey

An invasive lionfish photographed in Curaçao. Pic: Lazlo Ilyes (Flickr CC)

An invasive lionfish photographed in Curaçao. Pic: Lazlo Ilyes (Flickr CC)

Loss of coral reefs impacts greatly on the ecology and economy of the Caribbean and already has done so for nearly 100 years – people just haven’t really been paying attention. That’s one of the problems with environmental degradation, it often happens gradually and unobserved. But if we, for example, could see what our oceans were like 30, 50 or 100 years ago we would be shocked. They used to be teeming with fish and other life. Imagine a rich, diverse underwater eco-system that was in some places 10x more packed with coral and sea life than what people are currently oohing and aahhing about on their scuba diving vacations.

A piece in Time Magazine explains:

It turns there’s a scientific term for this feeling: shifting baselines. The fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly coined it in 1995 to describe how overfishing has changed the ocean so rapidly over the past several decades that what we think of as normal and healthy—the baseline—has had to shift to keep up with reality. Our picture of the environment becomes skewed, as we forget what used to be and adjust unconsciously to a diminished present.

So what’s to be done? Stop polluting with excessive chemicals and sewage for one. Cut down on global greenhouse gas emissions for another (like that’s gonna happen). Some conservationists are urging people to catch and eat lionfish, an invasive species from the Pacific that has ended up in the Caribbean due to the pet trade. As cool as these spiny tropical fish look, they just eat everything in their path including animals vital to coral health. Unfortunately they need to be caught with nets and their spines pack a sting.

Scientists will further research the causes of all the coral loss in the Caribbean, but I think we can safely guess that it’s mostly our fault.

Read the official press release of the Catlin Seaview.

About The Author: Graham Land

Greenfudge editor and London-based writer Graham Land grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, where he was part of the local hardcore punk scene, playing in several bands. Through this musical movement he became involved in grass roots interests such as anti-racist activism, animal rights and Ecology. In 2000 he relocated to Europe, eventually earning an MA from Malmö University in Sweden. He has also lived in Japan, Ireland, Portugal and Greece.


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