Newswise — Coral reefs all over the world are in great peril, but coral reefs in Florida are suffering and near death, according to John Ogden, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography, professor of biology at the University of South Florida (http://www.marine.usf.edu/FIO/) and co-author of a study published in the Mar. 18 issue of SCIENCE. The decline of coral reefs worldwide is not just an aesthetic issue but a serious environmental and economic issue, he said.
"Coral reefs can provide ecosystem goods and services worth more than $375 billion to the global economy each year," Ogden said. "Yet, our most degraded reefs are little more than rubble, seaweed and slime. Water quality is awful and almost no large animals survive."
According to Ogden, four systemic problems are the culprits: over fishing; climate change; pollution; and coastal overdevelopment. Yet, Ogden refuses to single out individuals or groups of offenders.
"We are all to blame," he says.
Despite the state's efforts in 1997 when the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary was established, Florida's coral reefs have continued to decline.
"Single actions, such as reducing fishing or restricting pollution " tend not to work," explained Ogden. "Only combined actions that address all levels of threats can help reverse the steepening trajectory of coral reef death."
Coral reef demise is a slippery slope of combined and continuing events and processes. Overfishing, one of the big problems, creates an imbalance of coral reef life, the study in SCIENCE showed. Ecological imbalance promotes algae growth. Climate change, pollution, and run-off from coastal development provide a second, third and fourth assault.
Australians, said Ogeden, are proud of their Great Barrier Reef, and long ago took they steps to prevent over fishing by making one third of the reef a "no take zone" and enacting laws and policies with regard to pollution.
"Closer to home," said Ogden, "the Bahamas and Cuba, resource-challenged nations, have committed to conserving more than 20 percent of their coral reef ecosystem."
Dean Milliken, associate director of FIO, recommends managing coral reefs as if they were an investment " and that makes a good deal of sense when one considers that annual revenues from coral reef tourism in the Florida Keys alone are over $1 billion. Australia, by comparison, receives $3.6 billion in economic benefit from its Great Barrier Reef alone, and for that reason - but not that reason alone - engages in high-stakes management to protect it.
"By investing in our coral reefs, major changes can be achieved through practical solutions, with short and long-term benefits, concluded Ogden. "As the reefs regain health, tourism will increase. Our reefs can, one day, again be a source of pride and economic benefit."