Loss of Coral Reefs: Implications
“There is progressive breakdown of the structure of the reef by physical and biological means which has implications for biodiversity and structure,” Professor Perry explains.
Coral reefs provide natural layers of protection for the shoreline meaning that reduction in growth rates, along with even slight increases in sea level, can lead to waves overtopping the reef and washing into the lagoon beyond.
The potential damage here is not just physical erosion of the beaches and shorelines behind the fringing reefs.
The lagoons are valuable nursery areas for fish, and increased wave ingress can have a negative impact upon their ecology – – with further potential damage to the reef ecology as a result.
The study is consistent with evidence from elsewhere, showing that bleaching is affecting reefs worldwide, although in some areas, most notably those which are more remote and less developed, the damage from such things as overfishing tends to be less.
Coral Reef Damage: What About the Future?
So what can be done about it? Addressing the immediate local issues is probably fairly simple: local management plans or even reef rebuilding can go some way to redressing the problems of slow growth. But according to Professor Perry, “There are major global problems which require international political solutions,” – most crucially, increased sea surface temperatures (which may not affect some types of coral as badly) and the damage they cause not just in terms of bleaching but also, it’s suggested (though not proved) through a link to increasing storm intensity and associated damage.
These are issues affecting coral reefs and their ecosystems well beyond the Caribbean – and they must be addressed – not just at a local but at an international level – if the decline in carbonate reef-building is to be arrested.
Perry, C.T., Murphy, G.N., Kench, P.S., Smithers, S.G., Edinger, E.N., Steneck, R.S. and Mumby, P.J Caribbean-wide decline in carbonate production threatens coral reef growth. (2013). Nature Communications January 2013