A University of British Columbia study has concluded that climate change, overfishing, habitat destruction and pollution have dramatically diminished the capacity of coral reefs to provide ecosystem services relied on by millions of people worldwide.
While the cumulative impact of this decline is unknown, UBC researchers have determined that global coverage of living coral has declined by over half since the 1950s.
The study was published on Sept. 17 in the online journal One Earth.
“We know coral reefs are biodiversity hot spots,” said the study’s lead author, Tyler Eddy, who conducted the study as a research associate at the UBC Institute for Oceans and Fisheries.
“Preserving biodiversity not only protects nature but supports the humans that use these species for cultural, subsistence and livelihood means,” stated Eddy, who’s now a research scientist at the Fisheries & Marine Institute at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
Catches of coral reef-associated fishes peaked in 2002 and are now in decline despite increasing fishing efforts; catch-per-unit effort has declined by 60% since 1950, data show. With projected continued degradation of coral reefs and associated loss of biodiversity and fisheries catches, the well-being and sustainable coastal development of human communities that depend on coral reef ecosystem services are threatened, the report said.
There are an estimated six million coral reef harvesters worldwide, including Pacific Island countries, and coral reef fisheries are valued at
$6 billion in U.S. dollars, according to the report.