World Oceans Day: Coral reefs falling victim to overfishing, pollution fueled by climate change

Coral reefs are declining around the world because a combination of factors -- overfishing, nutrient pollution, and pathogenic disease -- is becoming deadly when combined with higher ocean temperatures, researchers have concluded.

A study published this week in Nature Communications, based on one of the largest and longest field experiments on this topic, suggests that the widespread coral deaths observed in recent decades are being caused by a combination of multiple local stressors and global warming.

These forces greatly weaken corals and allow opportunistic pathogens to build to such levels that corals cannot survive.

"We need to know how human activities are affecting coral reef ecosystems," said David Garrison, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Ocean Sciences, which supported the research through an NSF Dimensions of Biodiversity grant.

The Dimensions of Biodiversity program is co-funded by NSF's Division of Ocean Sciences and Division of Environmental Biology.

"Coral reefs are among the most sensitive indicators of the health of the oceans," Garrison said. "This report is a major contribution toward understanding how reefs will fare in the future." Read more...