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Find out more from the Center for Biological Diversity:
Coral Conservation
Ocean Acidification
The New York Times, February 24, 2011

Deeper Peril for Coral Reefs
By John Collins Rudolf

Coastal development, overfishing and climate change are creating a “perfect storm” for the world’s coral reefs, nearly three-quarters of which are now at risk of serious degradation, a top federal environmental official warned this week at the unveiling of a comprehensive new report.

“Mounting pressures on land, along the coast and in the water converge in a perfect storm of threats to reefs,” Jane Lubchenco, administrator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said at a briefing.

The study, “Reefs at Risk Revisited,” an assessment led by the World Resources Institute, a conservation group, is an update to a 1998 study also led by the institute that classified 60 percent of the world’s reefs as threatened. “Threats have gone from worrisome to dire,” Dr. Lubchenco said.

Pressures identified in 1998 like coastal development and destructive fishing continue to pose the main threat to reefs. But the report also factored in global threats from climate and rising ocean acidity caused by carbon dioxide pollution, for the first time.

The threat to reefs from warming seas is hardly hypothetical: in 2010, one of the warmest years on record, spiking water temperatures damaged coral on a global scale rarely witnessed before.

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide, is absolutely necessary if we want any hope of preventing a lot of the dire situations that are presented in the report,” Dr. Lubchenco said.

Still, local human impacts like overfishing and pollution remain the most pressing threat for reefs, the report noted. And while 25 percent of reefs are now within “marine protected areas,” less than a quarter of these protected zones were rated as “effectively managed.”

If unchecked, growing global and local pressures will place more than 90 percent of reefs at risk by 2030, the report found.

© 2011 The New York Times Company

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton