Recent studies have found that the world’s coral are in considerable danger of disappearing due to a number of environmental pressures. These pressures include fishing, pollution, disease, global warming and ocean acidification. Overall, an estimated seventy-five percent of the world’s coral reefs are at risk. Global warming and ocean acidification are a growing problem, a problem which is only expected to be heightened as the century progresses.
The natural pH of seawater is 8.2. Since the industrial age, the pH of the world’s oceans has decreased by 0.1 down to 8.1. The world’s oceans have absorbed approximately half of all carbon dioxide emissions which have been emitted across the globe. Some studies have found that the world’s oceans are upwards of twenty-five percent more acidic today than it was prior to the Industrial Revolution. As carbon dioxide emissions are continuing to increase, the problem is only expected to worsen for the world’s oceans and coral reefs.
In addition to dealing with rising acidification, the world’s oceans and marine animals are also having to deal with increasing temperatures. Coral bleaching is often the result of increased temperatures, a process which can ultimately kill off large areas of reefs year to year. Pollution also contributes to coral bleaching as well and is often most predominant along major coastlines with agricultural, industrial and sewage waste.
All of these have been said to have contributed to a severe decline in coral in Florida and the Caribbean. According to a recent International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report, reefs in the Caribbean are down to just eight percent of their surface area having actual live coral. In many locations large algae have taken over the reefs leaving little to no room for coral.
As of the 1970s, the Caribbean coral reefs had an average of approximately fifty percent of the surface area covered with live coral. As of 2012, this figure is down to a startling average of eight percent and according to the IUCN it is clearly continuing to decline. Some areas have retained their coral reefs better than others, largely due to less human encroachment.
The U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Florida Keys have less than fifteen percent of the reefs covered in live coral. This is down from approximately twenty-five to thirty-five percent in the 1970s. Curacao and Bonaire, areas noted for their less drastic but still significant decline, currently have twenty-five to thirty percent coverage.