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Reef Check Releases 5 Year Report - The Global Coral Reef Crisis: Trends and Solutions
The Global Coral Reef Crisis: Trends and Solutions 1997-2001
To educate the public about the coral reef crisis;
Reef Check teams collect four types of data: 1) a description of each reef site based on over 30 measures of environmental conditions and expert rating of human impacts, 2) fish counts along an 800 m 2 section of shallow reef, 3) shellfish counts over the same area, and 4) a measure of the percentage of the seabed covered by different substrate types including live and dead coral. Sixteen global and eight regional indictor organisms were selected to serve as specific measures of human impacts on coral reefs.
They were chosen based on their economic and ecological value as well as their sensitivity to human impacts. For example, the humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) is the most sought after fish in the live fish trade, whereas the banded coral shrimp (Stenopus hispidus) is collected for the aquarium trade. In areas where these organisms are targeted, their populations are expected to decrease.
Monitoring was carried out from 1997 through 2001 at over 1500 reefs in the Atlantic, Indo-pacific and Red Sea. Following quality assurance procedures, 1107 sites were accepted for analysis. The analyses examined spatial and temporal changes in indicator abundance and correlations between abundance and ratings of human impact provided by the teams. The key findings were:
• At the global scale, zero spiny lobster were recorded at 83% of shallow reefs indicating severe overfishing; there was a significant decline in lobster abundance in the Atlantic;
• The mean abundance of Diadema sea urchins decreased significantly in the Indo-Pacific from 1998 to 2000, approaching levels similar to those found in the Atlantic and possibly indicating ecological destabilization;
• Globally, there was a significant decrease in the abundance of butterfly fish from 1997 to 2001;
• There were zero grouper larger than 30 cm recorded at 48% of reefs surveyed indicating overfishing of these predators;
• Four species of fish are in critical condition: Nassau grouper were absent from 82% of shallow Caribbean reefs – only eight reefs had more than one fish. Barramundi cod, bumphead parrotfish and humphead wrasse were missing from 95%, 89% and 88% of Indo-pacific reefs respectively;
• Moray eels were not recorded on 81% of reefs, and in the Indo-pacific, 55% of all reefs surveyed were devoid of parrotfish greater than 20 cm;
• Globally, the mean hard coral cover was 32%. The percent hard coral cover was significantly higher on reefs having no anthropogenic impacts than on reefs with high levels of such impacts. Only 34 reefs had greater than 70% hard coral cover and none had higher than 85% cover;
• The 1997-98 bleaching event reduced live coral cover by 10% globally, indicating that coral reefs are a sensitive indicator of global warming;
• Algal cover was higher on reefs rated as having high sewage inputs;
• Natural differences between reefs in the two oceans are the relatively high abundance of fish of the families Haemulidae and Scaridae on Atlantic reefs and fish of the familiesChaeodontidae and Lutjanidae on Indo-pacific reefs;
• Marine protected areas (MPAs) in developing countries are showing some success. Five of ten fish and one of ten invertebrate indicators were significantly more abundant inside than outside MPAs.
Prior to 1997, coral reefs were rarely featured in the international press. Beginning that year, Reef Check has been successful in attracting mainstream media attention to the plight of coral reefs. The public awareness campaign continues to build with the help of new private sector partners including Quiksilver and MacGillivray Freeman Films whose film and advertising capabilities offer mechanisms for delivering the message to the general public.
Reef Check also aims to design, test, and implement solutions to the problems facing coral reefs. As people learn more about coral reefs, they develop a sense of stewardship, and a desire to become involved in managing their local reefs. Participation in Reef Check has already led to the initiation of new coral reef management activities such as establishment of measurably successful marine parks.
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