Quarter of world's corals destroyed

A A A

More than a quarter of the world's coral reefs have now been destroyed, mostly in the past decade, and nearly three-quarters are likely to be gone within 50 years, a startling new international study says.

More than a quarter of the world's coral reefs have now been destroyed, mostly in the past decade, and nearly three-quarters are likely to be gone within 50 years, a startling new international study says.

The report, by the official Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, is the most alarming yet on the fate of the richest and most beautiful celebrations of life in the seas. Although corals cover only one-fifth of 1 per cent of the area of the oceans, they are home to one-quarter of all their species.

The report documents how the reefs of 93 countries - living entities built over centuries by tiny creatures - are being destroyed by over-fishing, pollution, global warming and tourism.

The United Nations Environment Programme, one of the international bodies that established the monitoring network, has just set up a Coral Reef Unit to tackle the crisis. Professor Klaus Töpfer, its executive director, said: "Coral reefs may be the equivalent of the canaries in coal mines giving early warning that the world's ecosystems can no longer cope with growing human impact."

The report says that by 1992 10 per cent of the world's reefs had been lost, but this had shot up to 27 per cent by the end of last year. The worst-affected areas are the Indian Ocean, where 59 per cent of the reefs have been lost, the Middle East (35 per cent) and South-East and Eastern Asia (34). The healthiest ones are in the Pacific and off Australia.

The Caribbean, which has lost about a quarter of its reefs, has some of the longest-standing problems. Decades of over-fishing and pollution have severely undermined the reefs' health, making them prey to disease.

Sewage and fertiliser running off the land encourage the growth of algae which choke the living coral polyps and cut off their supplies of light and oxygen. Over-fishing makes this even worse because it takes away the fish that would otherwise eat the algae and keep them in check.

Building on the coasts - or even cutting down forests inland - causes soil to be washed into the sea, smothering the polyps. Garbage has the same effect. Chemical and oil pollution poisons them and so does cyanide often used by fishermen to stun their prey off the Philippines and other areas.

Reefs are mined and dynamited to provide construction materials and careless tourists can also damage them by dropping anchors from pleasure boats onto the reefs, or even walking on them.

The biggest threat of all, however, says the report, is global warming. When water temperatures get too high the polyps turn white and die. About 16 per cent of the world's reefs were destroyed by such "bleaching" in just nine months in 1998, when temperatures in parts of the tropics exceeded all records, particularly affecting the Indian Ocean, South-East Asia and the far-western Pacific. In many areas, 60 to 90 per cent of the reefs were lost. The Seychelles, Maldives, Philippines, Kenya and Taiwan were among the worst-affected areas, but Australia's Great Barrier Reef and most of the Pacific largely escaped.

Some of these reefs, the report says, may revive if the oceans cool again, but scientists fear that as global warming increases the crisis will go on getting worse. It predicts that if global warming and other damage continues, 40 per cent of all the world's reefs will be lost by the end of this decade, and 70 per cent by the middle of the century. The effects will damage economies: 20 countries have few sources of income other than fish caught on the reefs and the tourists the corals attract.

Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PMO Analyst - London - Banking - £350 - £400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: PMO Analyst - Banking - London - £350 -£400 per d...

IT Portfolio Analyst/ PMO

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Mechanical Design Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Mechanical E...

Accountant,Reconciliations,Bristol,Bank,£260/day

£200 - £260 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Accountant, Reconciliations, Bristo...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn