Coral reefs around the world continue to be damaged by overfishing and pollution, according to a recently concluded international survey. Reef Check ’97, the first global survey of human impact on the world’s coral reefs, was carried out by volunteer divers around the globe during a two-month period this past summer. Data were then submitted to biologists in Hong Kong.
Although aware for a long time of the decline of certain species of reef fish and invertebrates (coral especially), reef biologists are pleased to have uniform data for the world’s reefs. “It’s significant because this is the first time in human history that we’ve gotten a snapshot of the world’s coral reefs,” said Ben Haskell, science coordinator for Florida’s National Marine Sanctuary, an organization that participated in the world-wide survey. “This first year’s data begin to establish a benchmark that we can compare future progress or possibly decline.”
Results of the survey, not surprisingly, revealed serious damage to most of the world’s reefs. All reefs showed some sign of human disturbance, few reefs were in excellent condition, and there were no pristine reefs found anywhere, according to survey reports.
“Results were sobering in terms of how much the ecosystem has been altered,” Haskell said. “For example, if you look at lobsters, which are the street cleaners of the reef city, abundance is abysmal. No lobsters at all were recorded at 81% of the world’s reefs.”
Despite the destruction, the survey concluded that marine parks and other areas with proper reef management were successful in allowing reef species to recover. “High numbers of indicator species were reported from marine protected areas in several countries,” the report stated.
This offers hope, according to Reef Check ’97 scientists, that recovery of damaged reefs is possible with new legislation and education, especially now that accurate research material is available. Contact the Florida Marine Sanctuary in Marathon, Fla., for more information on how to better care for and respect coral reefs: 305-743-2437.