Reef madness

More than half of U.S. coral reef ecosystems are in “poor” or “fair” condition, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association released this month.

Coral reefs are like the ocean’s canary in a coal mine. When they’re in trouble, the ocean is, too. They also protect coastal communities, as seen in the 2005 tsunami in Asia. Where reefs were intact, they helped buffer the waves, reducing their impact on the coasts. Where reefs had deteriorated, nearby coasts were slammed.

The report says coral reefs are deteriorating due to both natural and man-made causes, including overfishing, sedimentation, marine debris, and recreation. The affects of climate change are also causing concerns about rising sea levels, higher sea surface temperatures, mass coral bleaching and disease epidemics. The report says, “Continued increases in CO2 may result in acidification of waters to the point that calcification by marine organisms can no longer occur, which would prevent future coral reef growth altogether.”

NOAA says vast areas of reefs in remote areas of the Pacific are still in good shape but “not immune to threats,” specifically from poaching, as the number of formerly abundant fish species are reducing their numbers, some drastically.

The 569-page document covers the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Navassa Island, southeast Florida, the Florida Keys, Flower Garden Banks, the Main Hawaiian Islands, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, American Samoa, Pacific Remote Islands, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Guam and the Republic of Palau. It’s available at