Nearly half of the U.S. coral reef ecosystems are considered to be in
"poor" or "fair" condition according to a new analysis of the U.S.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. The report
was presented during the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium in
Fort Lauderdale, Florida this week. Producer Zulima Palacio looks into
the new report on the eve of the International Year of the Reef 2008.
Jim Bertel narrates the story.
call beautiful and healthy coral reefs like this one the largest living
structures on earth. However, they are being replaced by this:
bleached, diseased and dead coral.
Mark Eakin, the
coordinator of Coral Reef Watch for the U.S. National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA), says three years ago a
rise in sea temperatures in the area of the U.S. Virgin Islands in the
Caribbean killed about half of the remaining coral.
level of thermal stress, the heating that caused that bleaching in
2005, was greater that the previous 20 years of satellite record
combined," Eakin said.
Eakin says NOAA studies have identified two key factors in the process of coral destruction.
believe about a two degree increase Celsius, greater than what we have
seen over the last 100 years, will be a critical level for coral
reefs," Eakin said. "In addition the increase in atmospheric CO2 [carbon dioxide]
not only causes an increase in temperatures but it also changes the
chemistry of the oceans. It drops the pH [measure of acidity and
alkalinity] and makes the ocean more acidic."
latest U.S. report serves as a new warning of the effect of global
warming in the oceans. It says that the nation's coral reef
ecosystems, particularly those close to populated areas, continue to
face intense threats from human activities such as fishing,
sedimentation and recreation.
"Coral reefs are in some ways a canary in the coal mine," says Jeannette Waddell, a marine biologist
at NOAA. "They are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment."
sometimes refer to coral reefs, the most diverse marine ecosystems, as
the rainforests of the ocean. And they say there are more fish around
reefs than in remainder of the oceans.
And there is more at
stake. Doctors say coral reefs are also a source of medicine.
are maybe losing species that hold enormous promise for human
suffering, for relieving human suffering and preventing human death," says Dr.
Eric Chivian, who is with Harvard Medical School.
say growing concentrations of carbon dioxide and pollution, warming of
ocean waters as well as disease, overfishing and damage from fishing
nets are part of the problem. Eakin also expressed concerns about the
speed of change.
are seeing increases in temperature at rates that we haven't seeing any
time in the last several hundred thousand years. So, the problem here
is that while corals can adapt, we don't see any evidence that they are
going to be able to adapt quickly enough to respond to these rapid
changes," Eakin says.
The new report on the state of U.S. coral
reefs finds conditions similar to other regions. Scientists estimate
that at least 30 percent of the world's coral reefs are already dead.
They also say that human activities harm not only the reefs, but also