[Coral-List] What do coral reef scientists perceive are the major threats to Caribbean coral reefs?

Clive Wilkinson clive.wilkinson at rrrc.org.au
Sun Apr 13 01:47:37 EDT 2014

Hi Sarah (and those interested in lists)

There have been many recent efforts to list the most serious threats to coral reefs (usually excluding non-anthropogenic stressors). May I suggest you start with these.

The first in the literature was via Bernard Salvat in the early 80s and threats were the theme of the 4th International Coral Reef Symposium in Manila with Edgardo Gomez leading the charge.

Don Kinsey summarised the major threats in 1988 with a focus on organic pollution, overfishing and excess sedimentation (Kinsey, D. W. (1988). Coral reef response to some natural and anthropogenic stresses. Galaxea, 7, 113-28..)

The two plenary addresses at the 7th International Coral Reef Symposium in Guam focused on the threats facing coral reefs, with

predictions and bringing in climate change as a major threat(Buddemeier, 1993 p. 1; Wilkinson, 1993, p. 11).

Barbara Best compiled a list of threats in 2001 (Best, B.A. and A. Bornbusch (eds). Global trade and consumer choices: Coral reefs in crisis. Proceeding of 2001 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, San Francisco, California, 19 February 2001)

In 2004, the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network produced this 'Top Ten' list, based on input from more than 200 people:

Global Change Threats:
o    Coral bleaching - caused by elevated sea surface temperatures due to global climate change;
o    Rising levels of CO2 - increased concentrations of CO2 in seawater decrease calcification rates in coral reef organisms;
o    Diseases, Plagues and Invasives - increases in diseases and plagues of coral predators that are increasingly linked to human disturbances in the environment.

Direct Human Pressures:
o    Over-fishing (and global market pressures) - the harvesting of fishes and invertebrates beyond sustainable yields, including the use of damaging practices (bomb and cyanide fishing);
o    Sediments - from poor land use, deforestation, and dredging;
o    Nutrients and Chemical pollution - both organic and inorganic chemicals carried with sediments, in untreated sewage, waste from agriculture, animal husbandry and industry; includes complex organics and heavy metals;
o    Development of coastal areas - modification of coral reefs for urban, industrial, transport and tourism developments, including reclamation and the mining of coral reef rock and sand beyond sustainable limits.

The Human Dimension - Governance, Awareness and Political Will:
o    Rising poverty, increasing populations, alienation from the land - increasing human populations put increasing pressures on coral reef resources beyond sustainable limits;
o    Poor capacity for management and lack of resources - most coral reef countries lack trained personnel for coral reef management, raising awareness, enforcement and monitoring; also a lack of adequate funding and logistic resources to implement effective conservation; and
o    Lack of Political Will, and Oceans Governance - most problems facing coral reefs are tractable for solutions if there is political will and effective and non-corrupt governance of resources. Interventions by, and inertia in, global and regional organisations can impede national action to conserve coral reefs.
(Wilkinson, C.R., 2004. Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2004. Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, Townsville, p.557.)

This list was expanded a bit in a paper in Marine Pollution Bulletin (Wilkinson, C., Salvat, B. (2012). Coastal resource degradation in the tropics: does the tragedy of the commons apply for coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass beds? Marine Pollution Bulletin, 64: 1096-1105.)
Thus you have many lists to start with. Not all threats will apply in all reef areas and the order of prominence will change radically. And it is important to note "that everything connects to everything else" which is attributed to Leonardo da Vinci around 1500 and Barry Commoner in 1971. So the comments by Alina Szmant that the combination of climate change and disease fits exactly into this connection for the Caribbean.
Best wishes
Clive Wilkinson

PS - Sorry Gene Shinn, we have not included dust from the Sahara in our lists.

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov [mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Sarah Young
Sent: Friday, 11 April 2014 10:56 PM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: [Coral-List] What do coral reef scientists perceive are the major threats to Caribbean coral reefs?

Dear Coral List,

I have been an active reader of coral list for the last 15 years and this is my first post!  Fingers crossed you can help....

Newcastle University in conjunction with UK overseas territory government departments have amassed a large dataset on *perceived* impacts and threats to Caribbean coral reefs.  These range from sun cream to anchor damage.  We are testing the hypothesis that people will be more supportive of management initiatives seen to be addressing threats they view as important, leading to reduced implementation and enforcement costs.

Notably absent from the majority of interview responses were any mention of coral bleaching, ocean acidification, climate change or overfishing.  So we would like to compare our perception data to (preferably) a ranked list of scientific expert derived threats to Caribbean coral reefs, but failing that a list of the top 10 / top 20 threats to coral reefs.

There is a lot of information on the web but I am looking for something with a robust method - a journal article would be great, or perhaps a survey with a decent sample size, conducted within the last 5 years......

Can anyone help?

If people are interested I can post links to the reports when they are complete.

Thank you in advance,

Sarah Young (syoungresides at gmail.com<mailto:syoungresides at gmail.com>)

Future of Reefs Project

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"Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day." E.B.



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