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A new study has predicted that if current trends continue and the world fails to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, nearly all of the world’s coral reefs, including many in the Caribbean, will suffer severe bleaching — the gravest threat to one of the Earth’s most important ecosystems — on annual basis.
The finding is part of a study funded by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and partners, which reviewed new climate change projections to predict which corals will be affected first and at what rate.
The report is published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. Researchers found that the reefs in Taiwan and the Turks and Caicos archipelago will be among the first to experience annual bleaching, followed by reefs off the coast of Bahrain, in Chile and in French Polynesia.
Calling the predictions “a treasure trove” for environmentalists, the head of the UN agency, Erik Solheim, said the projects allow conservationists and governments to prioritise reef protection.
“The projections show us where we still have time to act before it’s too late,” Solheim said.
On average, the reefs started undergoing annual bleaching from 2014, according to the study.
Without the required minimum of five years to regenerate, the annual occurrences will have a deadly effect on the corals and disrupt the ecosystems which they support, UNEP said.
However, it said that if governments act on emission reduction pledges made in the Paris Agreement, which calls on countries to combat climate change and limit global temperature rise to below two degrees Celsius, the corals would have another 11 years to adapt to the warming seas.
Between 2014 and 2016, UNEP said the world witnessed the longest global bleaching event recorded.
Among the casualties, it said, was the Great Barrier Reef, with 90 per cent of it bleached and 20 per cent of the reef’s coral killed.
U.S. scientists on Tuesday completed a nearly two-week mission to explore waters around the U.S. Virgin Islands as part of a 12-year project to map the Caribbean seafloor and help protect its reefs.
A team with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration studied an area of 270 square miles (700 square kilometers), using equipment including underwater gliders and a remotely operated vehicle to help map the seafloor and locate areas where fish spawn. They focused mostly on the southern coast of St. Croix and the northwestern coast of St. Thomas.
“It’s a relatively unexplored but believed to be rich ecosystem,” lead researcher Tim Battista said by telephone. “We’re able to map large areas that you couldn’t do with just divers.”
The information will be used in efforts to conserve coral reefs as well as to update navigational charts and help government officials manage and better protect fish populations.
Reefs across the Caribbean have shrunk by more than 50 percent since the 1970s, with experts blaming climate change as well as a drop in the populations of parrotfish and sea urchins.
Part of the mission focused on studying the habitat and number of deep-water snappers that have become increasingly popular with fishermen in the area, scientist Chris Taylor said. Researchers currently know very little about the status and habitat of the silk snapper, which has golden eyes and is almost iridescent pink in color, he said.
About two-thirds of the survey was conducted in deep water, in depths up to 7,500 feet (2,300 meters), researchers said.
Among the more interesting discoveries was an underwater landslide about 6 square miles (16 square kilometers) in size as well as hundreds of cylindrical sea floor structures that were packed closely together and featured hard and soft coral on top, Battista said.
“It was really kind of unique,” he said. “I hadn’t seen that before.”
Researchers also found a collection of sea anemones in purple, green, white and black; gray sea cucumbers with stubby green spines; and white starfish with red stripes.
Credit: ABC News
JAMAICANS love parrotfish. Steamed, fried or roasted, the brightly coloured sea creature is a common feature on many a dinner plate. It’s also a favourite at the beach and at roadside eateries on the weekend.
But the enjoyment could soon come to an end as local and international groups are lobbying for a parrotfish ban. The arguments are that: 1) the fish clean coral reefs by eating the algae that grows on them, and 2) they excrete sand, which is one way of countering beach erosion.
Lenbert Williams, director of projects with the Negril Coral Reef Preservation Society, told the Jamaica Observer Monday that the parrotfish should be declared an endangered species in order to solve both problems or at least stem the tide of degradation.
“A mature parrotfish can weigh up to 40 lbs and in its lifetime it generates about 800 lbs of sand.So every time you eat a parrotfish you are denying the beach of 800 lbs of sand,” he said.
He explained that the parrotfish population is at risk from overfishing, as well as from the predatory lionfish. In addition to preserving them, he said, complementary measures such as replanting corals and sea grass beds were necessary.
Just last week, a study released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organisation, recommended that parrotfish be listed as a specially protected species under the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW Protocol).
Its focus was coral reef preservation, rather than sand production, although the two are intrinsically related.
The study, titled ‘Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012’, is the result of three years of work by 90 experts from the IUCN as well as the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and the United Nations Environment Programme.
It has found that Caribbean corals have declined by more than 50 per cent since the 1970s and may disappear in the next 20 years as a direct result of the loss of parrotfish and sea urchin — the area’s two main grazers — and not primarily as a result of climate change, as is widely believed.
“The loss of these species breaks the delicate balance of coral ecosystems and allows algae, on which they feed, to smother the reefs,” the report says.
Jeremy Jackson, lead author of the report and IUCN’s senior advisor on coral reefs, said: “Even if we could somehow make climate change disappear tomorrow, these reefs would continue their decline… We must immediately address the grazing problem for the reefs to stand any chance of surviving future climate shifts.”
The study also shows that some of the healthiest Caribbean coral reefs are those that “have restricted or banned fishing practices that harm parrotfish, such as fish traps and spearfishing”. These include the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the northern Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda and Bonaire.
The proposal to ban or restrict the catching of parrotfish seems logical enough to scientists, but it’s a much harder sell for the people who earn a living catching and selling it. They argue that parrot and snapper are the most abundant fish at sea and that any sort of restriction would severely hurt their ability to earn.
At the fishing beach on Port Henderson Road, Portmore, fisherman of 30 years Floyd Brown told the Observer that the species fetches up to $500 per pound.
“The most fish in the sea is parrot, so if we can’t catch it what we going to do? All the fish in the sea feed on coral so they would have to ban everything and that makes no sense!” he said.
“When unnuh tek parrotfish from people, how dem a go send dem pickney go school?” fisherwoman Olga Watt asked.
“Ah pure head an belly dem waan see?” added a fish vendor who was seated nearby but who declined giving her name. She was referring to the stereotypical image of severely malnourished children with swollen tummies and heads too large for their bodies.
She added: “Ah waan dem waan parrotfish fi mek more beach fi di tourist dem an we cyaan go deh,” making reference to the growing concern that locals are being barred from beaches meant for the public. The views were similar at the Forum fishing beach, also in Portmore.
“Parrot is the fish that we catch the most out of the sea. There is a wider variety of them than any other fish. Banning it will very seriously affect our livelihood,” Helen Blair-Brown told the Observer.
“If dem ban parrotfish, ah mash wi mash up,” a man passing by said loudly.
By contrast, fishers in Barbuda, which is about to ban all catches of parrotfish and grazing sea urchins and set aside one-third of its coastal waters as marine reserves, are reportedly in support of the restrictions.
According to a blog post on National Geographic titled ‘To save coral reefs, start with Parrotfish’, one of the report’s 90 contributing scientists, Ayana Johnson of Waitt Institute’s Blue Halo Initiative which is collaborating with Barbuda in the development of its new management plan, quoted fishers Larkin Webber and Josiah Deazle.
“I am worried about the taking of parrotfish because they clean the reef. Now people are specialising in catching parrotfish and that’s a problem. Parrotfish should be protected,” Webber is reported to have said.
“Parrotfish is my favourite fish to eat because I have no teeth anymore. How I’m going to eat boney fish? … But catch of parrotfish should be banned. People are taking so much of them the reef is gonna die,” Deazle is reported to have said.
For it’s part, the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (5Cs) is in support of a parrotfish ban and uses the success stories of Special Fisheries Conservation Areas in Jamaica to illustrate the point.
“This important report clearly supports the decision by the Government of Jamaica taken to establish and support a network of fish sanctuaries (now officially called Special Fisheries Conservation Areas). There are currently 14 fish sanctuaries in Jamaica, and many of them have been very successful at restoring populations of fish and lobsters, with one sanctuary achieving an amazing 540 per cent increase in fish biomass in just two years,” the centre said in a statement released to the media Monday.
Fish sanctuaries, the 5Cs said, provide an opportunity not only to safeguard the future of the island’s coral reefs, but also ensure the survival of the region’s beaches, tourism industry and food security.
“There is absolutely no reason why the early successes in the fish sanctuaries at Bluefield’s Bay, Galleon in St Elizabeth and Oracabessa cannot be replicated and expanded around Jamaica, and for that matter in the wider Caribbean,” the centre said.
“This is not an ocean-hugging environmental issue,” Johnson said in her post.
“Caribbean reefs generate more than US$3 billion annually from tourism and fisheries. This is a problem we can solve, to great benefit of ecosystems and economies. Here’s to hoping 2014 continues to be a year of strong action for ocean conservation, not just for establishing marine reserves, but also for saving parrotfish and therefore, Caribbean reefs.”
Credit: Jamaica Observer Also see: St. Lucia News Online
With only about one-sixth of the original coral cover left, most Caribbean coral reefs may disappear in the next 20 years, primarily due to the loss of grazers in the region, according to the latest report by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The report, Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012, is the most detailed and comprehensive study of its kind published to date – the result of the work of 90 experts over the course of three years. It contains the analysis of more than 35,000 surveys conducted at 90 Caribbean locations since 1970, including studies of corals, seaweeds, grazing sea urchins and fish.
The results show that the Caribbean corals have declined by more than 50% since the 1970s. But according to the authors, restoring parrotfish populations and improving other management strategies, such as protection from overfishing and excessive coastal pollution, could help the reefs recover and make them more resilient to future climate change impacts.
“The rate at which the Caribbean corals have been declining is truly alarming,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “But this study brings some very encouraging news: the fate of Caribbean corals is not beyond our control and there are some very concrete steps that we can take to help them recover.”
Climate change has long been thought to be the main culprit in coral degradation. While it does pose a serious threat by making oceans more acidic and causing coral bleaching, the report shows that the loss of parrotfish and sea urchin – the area’s two main grazers – has, in fact, been the key driver of coral decline in the region. An unidentified disease led to a mass mortality of the sea urchin in 1983 and extreme fishing throughout the 20th century has brought the parrotfish population to the brink of extinction in some regions. The loss of these species breaks the delicate balance of coral ecosystems and allows algae, on which they feed, to smother the reefs.
Reefs protected from overfishing, as well as other threats such as excessive coastal pollution, tourism and coastal development, are more resilient to pressures from climate change, according to the authors.
“Even if we could somehow make climate change disappear tomorrow, these reefs would continue their decline,” says Jeremy Jackson, lead author of the report and IUCN’s senior advisor on coral reefs. “We must immediately address the grazing problem for the reefs to stand any chance of surviving future climate shifts.”
The report also shows that some of the healthiest Caribbean coral reefs are those that harbour vigorous populations of grazing parrotfish. These include the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the northern Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda and Bonaire, all of which have restricted or banned fishing practices that harm parrotfish, such as fish traps and spearfishing. Other countries are following suit.
“Barbuda is about to ban all catches of parrotfish and grazing sea urchins, and set aside one-third of its coastal waters as marine reserves,” says Ayana Johnson of the Waitt Institute’s Blue Halo Initiative which is collaborating with Barbuda in the development of its new management plan. “This is the kind of aggressive management that needs to be replicated regionally if we are going to increase the resilience of Caribbean reefs.”
Reefs where parrotfish are not protected have suffered tragic declines, including Jamaica, the entire Florida Reef Tract from Miami to Key West, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Caribbean is home to 9% of the world’s coral reefs, which are one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Caribbean reefs, spanning a total of 38 countries, are vital to the region’s economy. They generate more than US$ 3 billion annually from tourism and fisheries and over a hundred times more in other goods and services, on which more than 43 million people depend.
This video, featuring the report’s lead author Jeremy Jackson, explains the significance of the report:
Peruse the full report.
Credit: The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just published its latest Working Group II report detailing impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability associated with climate change. The highly anticipated report paints a bleak picture with respect to the consequences of continued climate change. The latest IPCC report predicts future food and water supply insecurities, and calls for both mitigation and adaptation.
Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Rajendra K. Pachauri says he hopes the report on the rising threat of climate change will “jolt people into action”. The report found the strongest evidence of climate change in the thawing permafrost in the Arctic and in the destruction of coral reefs. It found many freshwater and marine species had shifted their geographical range due to climate change. But the report said climate change was growing more evident in human systems as well, where it posed a series of risks. Climate change was already beginning to affect crop yields, especially for wheat and maize, and the report says that yields could decline sharply towards the middle of the century.
The scientists found climate change was a driver of violent conflicts and migration, and was exacerbating inequality, making it harder for people to claw their way out of poverty. Climate change was also a factor in the rise of mega-disasters. The report said climate change was driving recent heatwaves and droughts, and was a risk factor for wildfires.
The latest IPCC report: FIVE Key Points
1. Food threat
Climate change is already taking a sizeable chunk out of global food supply and it is going to get worse. Increases in crop yields – which are needed to sustain a growing population – have slowed over the last 40 years. Some studies now point to dramatic declines in some crops over the next 50 years – especially wheat, and to a lesser extent corn. Rice so far is unaffected. The shortages, and the threat of food price spikes, could lead to unrest.
2. Human security
Climate change poses a threat to human security, and could lead to increased migration. Potential shortages of food and water, because of climate change, could be drivers of future conflicts. These won't necessarily be wars between states, but conflicts between farmers and ranchers, or between cities and agriculture industry which wants water for food. On the flip side, those conflicts are going to get in the way of government's efforts to protect people from future climate change.
Some are more vulnerable than others. Poor people in poor countries – and even the poor in rich countries – are going to bear an unfair burden of climate change, the report said. Climate change is going to exacerbate existing inequalities, and it is going to make it harder for people to claw their way out of poverty.
4. No-one is safe
As temperatures rise beyond 2 degrees to 4 degrees – our current trajectory – there are limits to how far society can adapt to climate change. The only way out is to cut emissions now – and buy some time by slowing warming – and at the same time make plans for sea walls, relocations, and other measures that can keep people out of harms' way.
5. Hard but not hopeless.
The report notes that research on the effects of climate change has doubled since the last report in 2007 – and so has understanding about what needs to done to insulate people from more severe consequences.
As the world digests the sobering findings of the latest installment of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a reminder of what the panel is designed to do: To inform policy decisions, including the negotiations towards the UN global climate change agreement in Paris in 2015. See this and other infographics at http://bit.ly/1ggttKT
Credit: The UK Guardian and The IPCC