Caribbean Coral Reefs on the Verge of Erosion: Study

First Posted: Jan 31, 2013 06:33 AM EST

Many Caribbean coral reefs have either stopped growing or are on the threshold of starting to erode, states the University of Exeter.

The latest international study conducted by a team of international researchers reveals that the amount of new calcium carbonate being added by the Caribbean coral is 70 percent lower than what it used to be some thousands of years ago.

A coral reef builds its structure by producing and accumulating calcium carbonate. This is a necessary ingredient for the corals to grow vertically. The latest study highlights the fact that ecological changes are impacting the growth potential of the reefs.

The team examined the rate of carbonate production of 19 reefs located across four Caribbean countries of the Belize, Bahamas, Grand Cayman and Bonaire. They compared the modern-day rates with the ones that were taken some 7,000 years ago.

They noticed that the drop in the production of carbonates is more evident in shallow water habitats. Also, in waters with five meters depth, the growth rate of the reef dropped by 60-70 percent, as compared to the regional averages that were garnered from the historical records. Whereas in waters of 10 meters depth, the rates reduced by 25 percent.

In order to maintain the current structure, the habitat must contain 10 percent living coral cover. But there are some that are already below this threshold and are therefore at risk of starting to erode.

"It is most concerning that many coral reefs across the Caribbean have seemingly lost their capacity to produce enough carbonate to continue growing vertically, whilst others are already at a threshold where they may start to erode," Professor Chris Perry of the University of Exeter, who led the research, said in a news statement.

Prior to this, studies have indicated that the reefs in the Caribbean have declined by an average of 80 percent since 1970. The prime factors that caused such terrible alterations in the number of reeds are human disturbances, diseases and increasing sea temperature. As climate change occurs, the condition will increase.

He continues to say that currently there is a limited evidence of large-scale erosion or loss of actual reef structure, but what remains clear is that if these trends continue to exist, reef erosion will definitely take place and at a faster rate. Immediate measures to improve the management of reef habitats are needed. 

The details of the study appear in the journal Nature Communications.

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