According to a new study, the degradation of the world’s coral reefs is causing a sharp decline in fisheries and putting coastal communities in jeopardy.
Fish catches along the world’s coral reefs peaked nearly two decades ago and have been diminishing since, according to a study published in the journal One Earth on Friday.
The catch per unit effort, a measurement of biomass, is 60% lower than in the 1950s, researchers found.
During that time frame, the global coverage of living corals and the biodiversity of species dependent on the underwater structure have declined by similar levels.
That meant a decrease in the capacity of coral reefs to provide food and livelihoods, sequester carbon and serve as a buffer against extreme climate events.
“The reduced capacity of coral reefs to provide ecosystem services undermines the well-being of millions of people with historical and continuing relationships with coral reef ecosystems,” reads the study.
The future of human coastal communities that depend on coral reefs is in doubt, the study concluded. Indonesia, the Caribbean and the South Pacific are already seeing impacts to subsistence and commercial fisheries as well as tourism.
For the study, researchers conducted a global data analysis that covered coral reef trends and associated ecosystems that included living coral cover, biodiversity and changes in food webs, as well as fisheries and seafood consumption by indigenous peoples.
The study concluded that climate change, overfishing and pollution have put the world’s coral reefs in jeopardy.
“Coral reefs are known to be important habitats for biodiversity and are particularly sensitive to climate change, as marine heat waves can cause bleaching events,” Tyler Eddy, a research scientist at the Fisheries & Marine Institute at Memorial University of Newfoundland, said in a statement.
“Coral reefs provide important ecosystem services to humans, through fisheries, economic opportunities and protection from storms,” said Eddy, who started the research when he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans & Fisheries.
According to the study, these effects have occurred despite marine-protection efforts, which may lack enforcement and do not address the broader issue of climate change.
A study published last year found that marine preserves have limited protection against rising global temperatures and coral bleaching.
According to the new study, addressing the problem will necessitate a globally coordinated effort in addition to local marine management.
It also stated that current efforts, such as the Paris climate accords, must address the direct causes of decreased coral reef capacity.