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Damaged coral reefs cause decline in fisheries, risks for coastal communities

By Jake Thomas
Damaged coral reefs cause decline in fisheries, risks for coastal communities
Fish catches along the world's coral reefs peaked nearly two decades ago and have been diminishing since, according to a new study. Photo by Tyler Eddy

Sept. 17 (UPI) -- The degradation of the world's coral reefs is causing a sharp decline in fisheries and putting coastal communities in peril, a new study has found.

Fish catches along the world's coral reefs peaked nearly two decades ago and have been diminishing since, according to a study published in the journal One Earth on Friday.

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The catch per unit effort, a measurement of biomass, is 60% lower than in the 1950s, researchers found.

During that time frame, the global coverage of living corals and the biodiversity of species dependent on the underwater structure have declined by similar levels.

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That meant a decrease in the capacity of coral reefs to provide food and livelihoods, sequester carbon and serve as a buffer against extreme climate events.

"The reduced capacity of coral reefs to provide ecosystem services undermines the well-being of millions of people with historical and continuing relationships with coral reef ecosystems," reads the study.

The future of human coastal communities that depend on coral reefs is in doubt, the study concluded. Indonesia, the Caribbean and the South Pacific are already seeing impacts to subsistence and commercial fisheries as well as tourism.

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For the study, researchers conducted a global data analysis that covered coral reef trends and associated ecosystems that included living coral cover, biodiversity and changes in food webs, as well as fisheries and seafood consumption by indigenous peoples.

The study concluded that climate change, overfishing and pollution have put the world's coral reefs in jeopardy.

"Coral reefs are known to be important habitats for biodiversity and are particularly sensitive to climate change, as marine heat waves can cause bleaching events," Tyler Eddy, a research scientist at the Fisheries & Marine Institute at Memorial University of Newfoundland, said in a statement.

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"Coral reefs provide important ecosystem services to humans, through fisheries, economic opportunities and protection from storms," said Eddy, who started the research when he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia's Institute for the Oceans & Fisheries.

Those impacts have come despite the marine-protection efforts, since they may lack enforcement and don't address the broader issue of climate change, the study said.

A study released last year similarly found that marine preserves have limited protective abilities when faced with rising global temperatures and coral bleaching.

Addressing the problem will require a globally coordinated effort in addition to local marine management, the new study found.

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It also said that current efforts such as the Paris climate accords must additionally address direct causes of diminished coral reef capacity.

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