Reefs in healthy order, better than expected

24th Nov 2003

An inspection of deeper-water Caribbean coral reefs found them healthier than previously believed, scientists said.

A three-year survey of 20 coral reef areas in the western Atlantic found those in 20 feet (6 meters) to 65 feet (19.5 meters) of water had an average of 26 percent living coral cover.
Previous studies in both shallow and deep water have found as little as 15 percent coral cover, said Robert Ginsburg, a professor of marine geology and geophysics at the University of Miami.
However, the new study used more consistent methods. “There were no data done in the same way,” Ginsburg said of earlier studies. “That`s really our contribution, to have done all of the surveys in the same method.”
The results were published in the July edition of the Smithsonian journal “Atoll Research Bulletin,” which is just being distributed.

British researchers in July released their own study on the health of coral reefs across the whole Caribbean basin. The scientists found coral cover had declined by about 80 percent in some areas. In others, the cover had dropped from 50 percent to only about 10 percent in just three decades.
The new study found the healthiest coral reefs were far from land - or next to small populations. The healthiest were the Flower Gardens near Texas, the Windward Netherlands Antilles east of Puerto Rico, and Bonaire and Los Roques islands north of South America.

The healthy reefs likely benefited from favorable water quality, and isolation from land and people.
Areas of damaged reefs were scattered across the Caribbean, near populated areas and in remote areas, according to the study.
“The stressors on these reefs are not simply associated with where people live,” said Philip Kramer, assistant research professor of geology at the University of Miami.

Damaged reefs suffered from a combination of problems, including disease, overfishing and other human damage, global warming and weakening from the warmer waters of El Nino.
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