A new government assessment of coral reefs in the United States has grim news: About half of the remaining coral reefs are at best "fair" and at worst near death.
The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States: 2008 makes plain that those coral reefs closest to cities are most at risk, since global warming, ocean acidification, overfishing, coastal development, sedimentation and pollution including from distant farms are causing serious declines in the health of corals and the rich ecosystems they support.
The health of corals is important to the health of the larger marine environment, because coral provides an important breeding and foraging ground for numerous species. That rich diversity is also what draws divers and snorkelers, who will no doubt lament (and hopefully join efforts to reverse) the decline of a favorite recreational pursuit. Recreational overuse and misuse are among the problems leading to declines in coral health (don't step on the coral!).
"The report shows that this is a global issue," said Tim Keeney, deputy assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and co-chair of the United States Coral Reef Task Force. "While the report indicates reefs in general are healthier in the Pacific than the Atlantic, even remote reefs are subject to threats stemming from climate change as well as illegal fishing and marine debris."
The full report is available from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Website.
The report comes during the International Year of the Reef, which seeks to draw attention to coral reefs as sentinels of the ocean environment.
Coral reefs are referred to as the rain forests of the ocean, because they are the most biologically diverse areas in the ocean. Formed over the course of 200 million years, the coral reefs of today are facing unprecedented threats from water pollution, destructive fishing practices, global warming and ocean acidification. Global warming alone could make corals begin to disappear by mid-century, according to recent research.
For more information about the International Year of the Reef, check out these Websites:
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.