Marine researchers deliver blueprint for rescuing America's troubled coral reefs

e agreed to conserve 20 percent of their coral reef ecosystems, while Australia recently zoned one-third of its massive Great Barrier Reef as "no take" in an attempt to reverse further ecological decline.

The coral reefs of Hawaii's main islands--Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii--also show degradation similar to that of the Florida Keys, according to the authors. And while reefs in the isolated northwest Hawaiian Islands remain in relatively good condition, they, too, are showing signs of decline: "Monk seals and green turtles are endangered; large amounts of marine debris are accumulating, which injure or kill corals, seabirds, mammals, turtles and fishes; and levels of contaminants, including lead and PCBs, are high."

To prevent further ecological deterioration, the research team recommended that the United States start managing its coral reefs as whole ecosystems instead of fragmented habitats. "For too long, single actions such as making a plan, reducing fishing or pollution, or conserving a part of the system were viewed as goals," they wrote. "But only combined actions addressing all of these threats will achieve the ultimate goal of reversing the trajectory of decline. We need to act now to curtail processes adversely affecting reefs."

Stopping overfishing will require integrated systems of "no take" areas as well as quotas on harvests, they said, and "terrestrial runoff of nutrients, sediments and toxins must be greatly reduced by wiser land use and coastal development." In addition, "slowing or reducing global warming trends is essential for the long-term health of all tropical coral reefs."

Like any other successful business, managing coral reefs requires investment in infrastructure, according to the authors. However, such investment will produce long-term benefits for the economy and the environment.

"Short-lived species, like lobster, conch and aquarium fish will recover and generate income in just a few years," th

Contact: Mark Shwartz
Stanford University

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