From: AIan James, Associated Press
Published September 24, 2004 12:00 AM

Study Estimates Two-Thirds of Caribbean Coral Reefs Threatened

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — About two-thirds of coral reefs in the Caribbean are threatened by pressures ranging from pollution to overfishing and urgently need better protection, a U.S.-based environmental research group says in a new study.

The World Resources Institute based the study on information from scientists, park managers and officials, mapping out perceived threats to reefs in places from Puerto Rico to Panama.

"We identify about two-thirds of the region's reefs to be directly threatened by human activities," said Lauretta Burke, the lead author, who plans to present the findings at a U.N.-sponsored environmental meeting in Jamaica next week.

The study concluded many reefs face multiple obstacles to survival. The researchers estimated about one-third are threatened by coastal development, one-third by sediment-laden runoff and pollution, and a total of 60 percent by overfishing.

The study didn't factor in diseases eating away at some reefs, or predictions of increased coral bleaching due to global warming.

The study found high threats to reefs in areas across the Caribbean. Some of the healthiest reefs were found in the Bahamas, archipelagos off Colombia and Nicaragua, and off Belize, Mexico and Cuba.

Burke said many of the Caribbean's marine protected areas "are really paper parks," without adequate resources to police them.

The study's co-author, Jon Maidens, said reefs historically have recovered from the battering of hurricanes but that the fragile corals are less likely to do so "with all the added stress from other sources."

The researchers warned that reef degradation could cost hundreds of millions of dollars due to projected declines in dive tourism and fishing, and coastal damage if more reefs die and break, offering less protection from surf and storms.

The study recommends a list of steps, including factoring reefs' economic value into policies and improving coastal management.

The World Resources Institute, based in Washington, is an independent nonprofit group. Burke said the study cost nearly US$500,000 and was partly funded with grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the United Nations Foundation and other agencies.

In Puerto Rico, marine biologist Edwin Hernandez said his own studies have found about 30 percent of the island's reefs are already lost and the vast majority are in danger. He said even reefs off small outlying islands _ traditionally some of the healthiest _ appear in decline due to diseases, overfishing and other factors.

Associated Press

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