A new study led by the University of British Columbia provides the first comprehensive look at what climate change, overfishing, and habitat destruction of coral reefs mean for their ecosystem services. For humans, this means how the global decline in coral reefs has affected their ability to provide essential benefits including food, livelihoods, and protection from storms.
The study found that global coverage of living corals has declined by about half since the 1950s and the diversity of reef species has declined by more than 60%. So, it is no surprise that there has been a significant loss in the ability of reefs to provide ecosystem services.
The study analyzed data from coral reef surveys around the world, fisheries catches, indigenous consumption, and more. Apart from the declines in reef coverage and biodiversity, the study found that fish catches on coral reefs peaked in 2002 and has steadily declined since then, despite increased fishing efforts.
The findings of the study led the researchers to conclude that continued degradation of coral reefs in the years to come threaten the well-being and sustainable development of millions of people in communities on the coast that depend on coral reefs. Fish and fisheries provide essential nutrients in places with few alternative sources of nutrition. Coral reef biodiversity and fisheries have added importance for indigenous communities, where important cultural relationships exist with reefs.
The study’s authors say that the results are a call to action. The level of destruction happening all over the world’s coral reefs is threatening people’s culture, their daily food, and their history. It is not just an environmental issue; it is a human rights issue.
Photo, posted September 22, 2010, courtesy of David Burdick / NOAA Photo Library via Flickr.