The Death of the Coral Reefs
August 16, 2003 7:49 PM   Subscribe

Coral Reefs Doomed Well, overfishing has destroyed the Grand Banks and now according to studies, it is "dooming" the coral reefs as well. When will learn? That being said, can anyone actually see the world's governments agreeing on doing anything to stop it?
posted by Coop (7 comments total)
What a fantastically well-researched and complete article. Perhaps Davidson does quote exclusively from one source, but with fierce and undying journalistic integrity, also goes so far as to imply that there might be another view, however wrongheaded and foolish it would be. "Some anti-environmentalists might scoff...," says Davidson, clearly sort of implying that someone might concievably think otherwise. Good show! At long last an example of a clearheaded and non-hysterical view of fisheries management.

And for all the sarcasm above, I'm half-serious, in that this is the most balanced treatment I've ever seen this issue get in the general media.
posted by rusty at 8:18 PM on August 16, 2003

Failure to prevent continued coral reef deterioration could turn countries such as Australia -- which are dependent on tourism at attractions such as the Great Barrier Reef -- into "Third World countries," (first link)

This is the BS rhetoric that right-wingers latch on to and makes the environmentalists look like fools. Australia wont turn into a 3rd world country. They'll figure out a way to make money from Kangaroos.

Second link is a fantastic article.
posted by stbalbach at 10:16 PM on August 16, 2003

The threats to reefs aren't as simple as overfishing. The reefs also face natural threats (disease, biological infestation), threats arising from the climate itself (excessive rainfall, storms, bleaching from rising ocean temperatures), and a number of human threats (coastal development, pollution, and yes, overfishing).

It's true the linked articles aren't the best for a thread on coral reefs. A better link might have been, a comprehensive online information system on coral reefs intended for both scientists and the general public. There seems to be a huge amount of authoritative information on this site. It's possible to look up reefs in specific regions and find out exactly what the risks are to those particular areas. It says, for instance, that the great majority of Australia’s reefs fall within protected areas, and the human pressures on reefs there are low as the reefs are remote from much human population. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is the largest protected reef in the world, and is well managed with a detailed zoning plan, providing areas of strict protection alongside much larger areas of multiple use.

Oh, and the site has cool photos.
posted by orange swan at 10:28 PM on August 16, 2003

I am not convinced.
posted by mischief at 12:20 AM on August 17, 2003

The number of comments about this post is symptomatic.

Coral reefs, while crucial to a large percentage of ocean life, don't figure much in the consciousness of contemporary humans. Their decline has long been bemoaned by those who study them - biologists - but few others notice or care.

Here a Columbia Earth Institute piece on some research into the problem, from June, 2000.

"rising CO2 levels -- caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of tropical forests -- threaten reefs with something of a one-two knockout punch. Carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas considered largely responsible for global warming, which in turn is expected to result in rapidly rising sea levels over the coming century. Thus reefs, which live and grow only near the ocean's surface, could literally drown as sea levels rise and their ability keep pace with new growth diminishes.

"Other research has indicated that terrestrial ecosystems might actually benefit from elevated CO2 levels, insofar as it's a necessary raw material of photosynthesis," Langdon said. "But that is clearly not the case with coral reefs."

Coral, and many other ocean creatures, build their hard, protective shells from calcium and carbonate ions that they extract from the water around them. A reef results as millions of individual coral build their homes around and on top of each other over time, like the slow construction of an apartment building, one story after another.

When excess atmospheric CO2 dissolves into the shallow ocean, its natural chemical balance is disrupted and the water becomes more acidic. The ocean's natural buffering system responds by using carbonate ions to consume the acid. While this does keep the water from becoming too acidic, less carbonate is available for coral building and overall reef growth slows.

Many of the world's reefs are already weakened from the effects of over fishing, development and pollution. Slowing growth only makes them more vulnerable, Langdon said. And to make matters worse, it appears that coral will not able to adapt to these changing water chemistry conditions over time."

posted by troutfishing at 7:55 AM on August 17, 2003

Very interesting articles, the second link especially, (which led me on a web-journey through to some aging hippy traveler giving lectures to school kids).
Unfortuntely I now have an intense craving for all kinds of seafood.
posted by HTuttle at 10:22 PM on August 17, 2003

After reading this book on oceanography, I became convinced that the last great wilderness on the planet was the deep ocean, and I do not eat sea fish any more as a result.

Good post, thanks!
posted by BigCalm at 1:36 AM on August 18, 2003

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