MARINE CONSERVATION SOCIETY
Coral reefs or
OUR tropical reefs are being hammered by a variety of threats, and the sheer scale of the damage can seem incredible. Estimates vary, and scientists can be vague, but the most recent overview, last summer's Reefs at Risk report, provides figures on the scale of the problems and risks to coral reefs.
Some press coverage generated since the report has seemed to suggest that the battle is already over. Although this is not the case, the report does make grim reading.
Thirty-six per cent of all reefs are threatened by over-exploitation. Outside the Pacific, 70 per cent are considered "at risk". The report draws on 14 global datasets indicating development pressure, information on 800 Reefbase sites known to be degraded, and scientific expertise.
Even though many reefs remain to be surveyed, divers who have seen the evidence will not be surprised at the figures quoted. Loss of big fish like groupers, anchor damage and corals covered in silt or algae are commonly reported problems.
Some sites have deteriorated over the years (described in many a previous Diver article) and you must search hard and long to find pristine reefs with a full quota of fish and naturally high species diversity.
Over-exploitation, destructive fishing, pollution, coastal development and other large-scale factors are mainly at fault. Recreational divers are blameless in most cases, though some are less careful and need encouragement in controlling buoyancy, avoiding contact with corals and generally understanding the nature of reefs.
Divers also bring in money for local economies and a reason for local people to preserve their reefs. The many aware and responsible divers are a positive bonus for reef conservation. The MCS is leading coral reef appreciation courses throughout the year, based in the Red Sea - call 01989 566017.
Appeared in DIVER - February 1999