Caribbean reefs could be wiped out in as little as 20 years unless reef grazers, such as parrotfish and urchins, are protected. A recent report is showing it’s not just the threat of global warming causing corals to bleach out and die off, but it’s these important grazers that make a difference on the health of the reef.
The study found that some of the healthiest coral reefs were those that have taken action to protect parrotfish, such as banning fish traps and spearfishing, or banning fishing of parrotfish and sea urchins altogether, as the report notes Barbuda is doing.
Decline of reef grazers in the Caribbean has caused significantly more degradation of coral over ocean warming the last 40 years. The research shows that 50 percent of Caribbean coral reefs have been lost since the 1970s.
The grazers are lawnmowers of the reef, keeping algae in check. Overfishing has contributed to steep declines in Caribbean parrotfish populations over the last several decades, as has pollution and local tourism.
Another interesting part of this is that scientists have found reefs protected from overfishing are also aiding in protecting against coral loss after a hurricane. In Bermuda, where the reefs are protected, have had no loss of coral cover after four hurricanes since 1984. Conversely, overfished areas like Belize have suffered 49 percent loss after three hurricanes.
[via Think Progress]