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Humans have caused profound changes in Caribbean coral reefs
Date:1/8/2008

ly, the area of cultivated land (a likely surrogate for agrochemical discharges to coral reefs) was the main driver of increases in macroalgae. Coral mortality was further accelerated by warmer temperatures.

The human expansion in coastal areas inevitably poses severe risks to the maintenance of complex ecosystems such as coral reefs, Mora said. On one hand, coral reefs are maintained due to intricate ecological interactions among groups of organisms. For instance, predators prey upon herbivorous, herbivores graze on macroalgae, and macroalgae and corals interact for their use of hard substrata. Given the intensity of these interactions the effects of a threat in anyone group may escalate to the entire ecosystem. On the other hand, the array of human stressors arising from changes in land use, exploitation of natural resources and increases in ocean temperature (and perhaps acidification) due to an increasing demand for energy, are significantly affecting all major groups of coral reef organisms. The simultaneous effect of human threats on coral reef organisms and the potential escalation of their effects to the entire ecosystem highlight the critical situation of coral reefs and the need to adopt an ecosystem-based approach for conservation and an integrated control of multiple human stressors, he added.

The study also showed that the effective compliance of fishing regulations inside Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) has been successful in protecting fish populations. But coral mortality and macroalgae abundance showed no response to the presence of MPAs. That was explained by the general failure of MPAs in the Caribbean to account for threats such as land runoffs and ocean warming. Unfortunately, the degradation of the coral reef matrix inside MPAs may, in the long term, defeat their positive effect on fish populations, Mora said. This further highlights the need for a holistic control of human stressors, he added.

The future of coral r
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Contact: Camilo Mora
cmora@dal.ca
57-313-706-4929
Census of Marine Life
Source:Eurekalert  

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