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close this bookReefs at Risk - A Map-Based Indicator of Threats to the World's Coral Reefs (WRI, 1998, 56 pages)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAcknowledgments
View the documentForeword
View the documentKey Findings
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentReefs and People: What Is at Stake?
View the documentThreats to Reefs
View the documentThe Reefs at Risk Indicator
View the documentStatus of the World's Coral Reefs
View the documentTwelve Reefs at Risk
View the documentImproving Our Knowledge Base
View the documentProtecting the Health of Coral Reef Ecosystems
View the documentTechnical Notes
View the documentAbout the Authors
View the documentEndnotes

(introduction...)

DIRK BRYANT
LAURETTA BURKE
JOHN McMANUS
MARK SPALDING

Contributing Authors: Maria Carmen Ablan, Perry Alino, Charles Victor Barber, Cindy Cabote, Herman Cesar, Terry Done, Maharlina Luz Gorospe, Hector Guzman, Pamela Hallock, Julie Hawkins, Art Hayman, Gregor Hodgson, Malikusworo Hutomo, Stephen Jameson, Jim Maragos, Don McAllister, Lambert MeƱez, Chou Loke Ming, Sara Moola, Nyawira A. Muthiga, Kathleen P. K. Reyes, Callum Roberts, Frederick Schueler, Irene Uy, Sheila Vergara, Alan White, Clive Wilkinson

A joint publication by World Resources Institute (WRI), International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management (ICLARM), World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

"In some areas human activity has destroyed entire reefs, convening them to algal-covered rubble. Who knows what species, known and unknown alike, have already been wiped out? Who can say which ones will be winking out in the near future, their intricate genetic codes, formed over millennia, suddenly gone...."

- Osha Gray Davidson, The Enchanted Braid

More than forty years ago, I slipped into a sunlit ocean, clear as air, not far from Miami, Florida, and glided into a kaleidoscope forest of lavender sea fans, cavernous sponges, and giant stands of elkhorn coral. Thousands offish moved about like animated fragments of stained glass, and other creatures - red starfish, black urchins, pink cucumbers, translucent anemones, blue shrimp, brown crabs, silver hydroids, and numerous others I could not name - embroidered every inch of aquatic real estate as far as I could see in all directions, I witnessed that afternoon - my first of thousands of dives on coral reefs around the world - a fair cross section of the major divisions of life that have ever existed on this planet - Nearly all of the major phyla of animals and plants, as well as microbes, have at least some representation in the sea, and most include coral reef species. Only about half occur on the land, even in the richest forests, swamps, and grasslands. Diving into a healthy, productive coral reef system as I did on that afternoon long ago, I traveled tai into the history of life on earth, a surreal journey into time.

Recently, I returned hoping to relocate that underwater Garden of Eden, but found only barren coral skeletons shrouded with gray-brown sediment. Again, it seemed that I had traveled in time, only now the direction was a swift fast-forward fantasy, a glimpse of the future. In my lifetime, I had witnessed change on a geological scale, wrought by my species. The rapid growth of population in central and south Florida has had hidden costs - the consumption, in decades, of species and natural ecosystems millions of years in the making

Worldwide, including in some parts of Florida, there are coral reefs and entire reel systems that appear to be as pristine today as they were in ages past, but there is no doubt that there is an alarming global trend of decline. Until half a century ago, the worst threats to coral reefs were storms, volcanic eruptions, periodic ice ages, and occasional comets striking the Earth. However, since the 1950s, and at an accelerating pace, humankind has added significant new pressures ranging from outright mining of coral for building materials, widespread pollution, and destructive fishing practices to loss of vital related mangrove and seagrass ecosystems.

Concern has been growing for decades about the fate of coral reefs, especially in recent years as more and more people have access to these underwater worlds and have come to realize their value for reasons that both embrace and transcend aesthetic, scientific, economic, and environmental considerations. Many more who have not seen these notorious "rainforests of the sea" for themselves have been made aware of their importance and arc motivated to want to do something to stay their swift loss. In 1997, which the United Nations declared as the "International Year of the Reef," many questions were raised about just how widespread the problems are and what can be done to help protect what remains of healthy systems - and restore those that are damaged.

Although coral reefs have become the subject of thousands of research projects in the past few years, remarkably little has been done to attempt a global assessment of where and what arc the most pressing problems. Yet, such information is vital if effective action plans are to be devised the authors of this report have taken an ingenious approach to gauge the areas most at risk, as well as to highlight those with varying degrees of sanctity, by correlating what is known about the distribution of reefs with the distribution of known human impacts. The result is a monumental overview, one that can be used to help guide conservation efforts on a grand scale - as well as up close, locally.

As human population grows, so will the pressures on the natural systems that sustain us. Reefs at Risk: A Map-Based Indicator of Threats to the World's Coral Reefs makes it possible to pull back and gain perspective on past problems as an effective way to anticipate - and perhaps prevent - potential disasters in the making. The fate of coral reefs, the ocean, and humankind forty years from now and forevermore will depend on the intelligence, motivation, and caring of people now alive. In that spirit, this report provides hope that we may succeed

Sylvia A. Earle
Explorer-in-Residence, National Geographic Society
Chairman, deep Ocean Exploration and Research Organization

Carol Rosen
Publications Director

Hyacinth Billings
Production Manager

Cover Photograph by
Jan C. Post
World Bank

Each World Resources Institute Report represents a timely, scholarly treatment of a subject of public concern. WRI takes responsibility for choosing the study topics and guaranteeing its authors and researchers freedom of inquiry. It also solicits and responds to the guidance of advisory panels and expert reviewers. Unless otherwise stated, however, all the interpretation and findings set forth in WRI publications are those of the authors.

Copyright © 1998 World Resources Institute. All rights reserved.
ISBN 1-56973-257-4
Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 98-86375
Printed in the United States of America on Recycled Paper