By James Oliver, IUCN Global Marine and Polar Programme.
The Andros Barrier Reef, located off Andros Island, the largest island in the Bahamas archipelago, is the second largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere. Extending for a distance of approximately 200km, this reef system is home to over 164 species of fish and coral and is famous for its deep water sponges and large schools of red snappers. It has been identified as a “Hope Spot” by the Mission Blue project of world-renowned oceanographer Dr Sylvia Earle and, as with other Hope Spots, critical to the health of the ocean.
Today at IUCN’s World Conservation Congress we heard more worrying news for Caribbean coral reefs with the release of a new report by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, coordinated by IUCN, which estimates that 85-90% of the region’s coral reefs are dead or dying. Attention has therefore turned to the remaining 10% and whether they can be saved.
The region is now characterised by dramatic declines in coral cover, fish biomass and grazing species such as sea urchins and herbivorous fish, which has, in turn, given rise to an explosion of macroalgae that outcompetes corals and prevents recruitment of new coral, hence crippling system recovery. With a dramatic compromise in reef resilience, the region’s corals have struggled, and in some cases failed to recover from hurricane damage and coral bleaching events caused by increases in sea temperatures.
The few remaining healthy reef areas in the Caribbean are testament to sound reef management that has been put in place in these areas. Wise reef management is the only path to enhancing the resilience of Caribbean reefs to climate change and the only hope for saving the remaining Hope Spots.
Despite being designated a National Park in 2002, Andros Island continues to come under threat from unsustainable fishing practices, damage from boats, water pollution, and offshore dredging. Never was there a more urgent need for action than across the Caribbean region today.