Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012

Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (2014)

This report is the most detailed and comprehensive study of its kind published to date – the result of the work of 90 experts over the course of three years. It contains the analysis of more than 35,000 surveys conducted at 90 Caribbean locations since 1970, including studies of corals, seaweeds, grazing sea urchins and fish. The results show that the Caribbean corals have declined by more than 50% since the 1970s. But according to the authors, restoring parrotfish populations and improving other management strategies, such as protection from overfishing and excessive coastal pollution, could help the reefs recover and make them more resilient to future climate change impacts. Key findings of the report: There has been a dramatic decline in Caribbean corals of more than 50% since the 1970s. The decline is not uniform and correlates only weakly with local extreme heating events, instead being mainly attributed to the severity of local stressors, in particular tourism, overfishing and pollution. Whilst climate change has badly affected Caribbean corals and continues to be a major threat, well-managed reefs have bounced back suggesting that climate change is not the main determinant of current Caribbean coral health and that good management practices can save larger areas of reef if tough choices are made. Loss of the two main grazers, parrotfish and sea urchin, has been a key driver of coral decline in the region as it breaks the delicate balance of coral ecosystems and allows algae to smother reefs The massive outbreak of coral diseases and mass die-off of sea urchin close to the Panama Canal suggest that the order-of-magnitude increase in bulk shipping in the 1960s and 1970s has introduced pathogens and invasive species that have since spread in the Caribbean. Recommendations made in the report: 1.,, Adopt conservation and fisheries management strategies that lead to the restoration of parrotfish populations and so restore the balance between algae and coral that characterises healthy coral reefs

2.,, Maximise the effect of those management strategies by incorporating necessary resources for outreach, compliance, enforcement and the examination of alternative livelihoods for those that may be affected by restrictions on the take of parrotfish

3.,, Consider listing the parrotfish in the Annex II and III of the SPAW Protocol (The Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife) in addition to highlighting the issue of reef herbivory in relevant Caribbean fisheries fora

4.,, Engage with indigenous and local communities and other stakeholders to communicate the benefits of such strategies for coral reef ecosystems, the replenishment of fisheries stocks and communities

Assessment Report