And the rest is endangered, so say the International Coral Reef Initiative and l’Initiative française pour les récifs coralliens (via Le Monde). This joint work took four years and some 400 researchers from 96 countries. According to their observations, the world has already lost 19% of its coral reef – one of the world’s richest ecosystem – 15% are in danger of disappearing within ten to twenty years, and 20% more face the same threat within twenty to forty years if nothing is done. And this is without taking into account the effects of global climate change.
Coral reef are rich ecosystems. One third of marine life depend upon them, their survival is therefore crucial to the preservation of the world’s biodiversity but also for the 500 million humans who get their food from them. Coral reef protect coastal areas and promote tourism. According to UNEP, every square kilometer of coral reef generate between €81,000 and €488,000 of income.
The problem is that coral reef are under ecological pressure due to human activity and population growth. The main cause of coral reef destruction due to soil erosion, chemical and bacteriological pollutants that "suffocate" them. In addition overfishing and certain types of fishing (such as fishing with cyanide or explosive fishing) also contribute to their bad shape. Add to that the construction of ports and marinas, the removal of sand for the construction industry and the increase in tourism and you get the picture.
Global warming, which causes their "bleaching" is another major threat. As the water temperature rises, corals expel microscopic algae that they used as nutrients and give them their colors. For instance, the 2004 tsunami and the bleaching of 2005 were devastating especially in the Caribbean.
The situation is bad but there is global progress on the protection of coral reef. Developed countries affected by this problem (The United States, Australia and Japan, for instance) have established protected areas. France has 10% of the world’s coral reef and has managed to get some of them classified as part of the UNESCO World Heritage list. Indonesia is also taking measures to protect its own coral reef. But for developing countries, protecting the environment is not necessarily a priority when there are more pressing needs, such as rising food prices. The leaders of these countries know the environment needs to be protected but they lack the financial means and human resources to do so. And globally, enforcement of protection measures remain problematic.