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GCRMN, IUCN, UNEP Report Analyzes Status of Caribbean Coral Reefs

UNEP-GCRMN-IUCN2 July 2014: Caribbean corals have declined more than 50% since the 1970s, according to ‘Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012.' The report identifies overfishing, pollution and tourism as the main threats to coral reefs and provides a series of recommendations to promote reef recovery and resilience.

The loss of parrotfish and sea urchin, the two main grazers, has allowed algae to smother coral reefs, according to the report. The report also attributes an increase in shipping in the 1960s and 1970s to sea urchin die-off and coral diseases, as well as the introduction of invasive species and pathogens, all of which have negatively impacted coral populations.

Although climate change has affected Caribbean corals through coral bleaching and ocean acidification, the report finds that climate change is not the main threat to coral reefs. It suggests that good management practices can aid reef recovery, noting that areas that have banned fishing practices that harm parrotfish, such as spearfishing, have healthier reefs.

"Even if we could somehow make climate change disappear tomorrow, these reefs would continue their decline," said Jeremy Jackson, lead author of the report. Jackson recommended immediately addressing “the grazing problem for the reefs to stand any chance of surviving future climate shifts."

The report recommends the adoption of conservation and fisheries management strategies to restore parrotfish populations and a healthy algae-coral balance. It also recommends promoting alternative livelihoods for those affected by restrictions on parrotfish fishing and engaging with indigenous and local communities to raise awareness on the benefits of conservation and management strategies for both the economy and the replenishment of fish stocks. The report also suggests listing the parrotfish on The Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW).

The Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) collaborated on the report. The report findings are based on the analysis of 35,000 surveys conducted at 90 locations in the Caribbean since the 1970s. [UNEP Press Release] [Publication: Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012]