Title: Reefs at risk in the Caribbean : executive summary
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00095910/00001
 Material Information
Title: Reefs at risk in the Caribbean : executive summary
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Burke, Lauretta
Maidens, Jonathan
Publisher: World Resources Institute
Place of Publication: Washington, D.C.
Copyright Date: 2008
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Bibliographic ID: UF00095910
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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Reefs at Risk

in the Caribbean



Contributing Authors:
Mark Spalding, Philip Kramer, Edmund Green,
Suzie Greenhalgh, Hillary Nobles, Johnathan Kool



Exctv gSumar

C oral reefs are an integral part of the Caribbean fabric,
threading along thousands of kilometers of coastline.
Teeming with fish and invertebrate life, these ecosystems
provide food for millions of people. Buffering shorelines,
they protect the land from the worst ravages of storms.
Coral reefs form the foundation of the thriving Caribbean
tourism industry, the region's most important economic sec-
tor. The reefs supply much of the sand for the region's beau-
tiful beaches and lure divers and snorkelers from far and
wide to come and explore the reefs' colorful and mysterious
depths. The dazzling array of species living on coral reefs
has also attracted the attention of the pharmaceutical indus-
try as a potential source of new drugs and life-saving med-
ical treatments.
Unfortunately, these valuable ecosystems are degrading
rapidly under the mounting pressure of many human activi-
ties. Coastal development, land clearance, and intensive agri-
culture all contribute damaging sediment and pollution to
coastal waters, while overfishing is changing the ecological
balance of coral reef environments. In addition, rising sea
temperatures have prompted dramatic "coral bleaching"
events in recent years, weakening and killing corals in many
areas. At the same time, poorly understood coral diseases have
spread rapidly across the region, devastating some of the main
reef-building corals. Coral reef degradation and mortality will
significantly impact the region's economy through reduced
habitat for fish and shellfish, diminished appeal for tourists,
and a lessened capacity to protect the shoreline.
Understanding the nature and extent of these threats
and their likely economic impacts on the future productiv-
ity of Caribbean coral reefs as sources of food, recreation,
employment, and biopharmaceuticals is of central impor-
tance to conservation and planning efforts. Numerous stud-
ies are underway to monitor and assess reef conditions at
particular locations in the Caribbean, but data gaps persist
and, for the majority of reefs, little information is available.
Many such efforts fail to combine ecosystem studies with
monitoring of socioeconomic and environmental condi-
tions, making it difficult to link changes in coral condition
to specific causes.

The Reefs at Risk in the Caribbean project was launched to
help protect and restore these valuable, threatened ecosys-
tems by providing decision-makers and the public with
information and tools to manage coastal habitats more
effectively. The project focuses on compiling, integrating,
and disseminating critical information on these precious
resources for the entire Caribbean region. This information
is intended both to raise awareness about the threats to and
value of Caribbean reefs and to encourage greater protection
and restoration efforts.
Conducted by the World Resources Institute in cooper-
ation with over 20 organizations working in the region, the
project represents a unique, region-wide look at the threats
facing Caribbean coral reefs. The collaborative process of
data gathering and analysis has produced the first regionally
consistent, detailed mapping of these threats. The project
provides decision-makers and the public with important
insights on links between human activities that stress and
damage reef organisms and where degradation of reefs could
be expected to occur, or may have already occurred. The
maps created by the Reefs at Risk project will assist regional
and national organizations in setting priorities for conserva-
tion and natural resource management. The analytical tools
and threat indicators will also allow managers to assess, for
the first time, the source and scale of threats affecting those
many reef areas for which more detailed monitoring infor-
mation is unavailable.

I Coral reefs a dazzling array of life.


Reefs at Risk project collaborators worked to gather and
compile data from many sources on Caribbean coral
reefs, their condition, the surrounding physical environ-
ment, and the social and economic factors associated
with human pressure on reef ecosystems. These data were
consolidated within a geographic information system
(GIS) that includes information on coral reef locations,
pressures (i.e., pollution and other observed threats and
physical impacts), changes in reef condition, and infor-
mation on management of reef resources.
Using these data, the project team developed region-
ally consistent indicators of coral reef condition and
threats in four broad categories representing the key
stresses to reefs in the Caribbean: coastal development
(i.e., pressures from sewage discharge, urban runoff, con-
struction, and tourism development), watershed-based
sediment and pollution (i.e., pressures related to soil ero-
sion and runoff of fertilizers and pesticides from farm-
lands), marine-based pollution and damage (i.e., pres-
sures from shipping and boating, including dumping of
garbage, oil spills, discharge of ballast, and physical dam-
age caused by groundings and anchors), and overfishing
(i.e., pressure from unsustainable levels of fishing). The
reef area considered by this analysis totaled 26,000 square
kilometers (sq km), which was divided into 25-hectare
units (500 m on a side). For ease of interpretation, each
coral reef unit was rated at low, medium, or high threat
for each of the four individual threat categories. In
medium-threat areas, pressure on reefs is considered suffi-
ciently high to result in degradation within the next 5 to
10 years. In high-threat areas, degradation is likely to
occur sooner and potentially be more severe. Substantial
input from scientists across the region guided the selec-
tion of thresholds for categorizing a given threat level as
low, medium, or high. These threat indicators were fur-
ther calibrated against available data on observed impacts
on coral reefs.

The four indicators were then combined into a sin-
gle, integrated index of overall human pressure on
Caribbean reefs. This integrated Reefs at Risk Threat
Index reflects the highest threat level (i.e., low, medium,
or high) achieved by any of the four individual threats in
a given 25-hectare reef unit. To capture the impact of
cumulative threats in a single location, units in which
three or four of the individual threats were rated as high
were categorized as very high in the integrated Reefs at
Risk Threat Index. Similarly, for units in which at least
three threats were rated as medium, the integrated index
was rated as high.
The geographic data sets and threat indicators assem-
bled under this project have also been used in an eco-
nomic valuation of some of the key goods and services
related to coral reefs (fisheries, tourism, and shoreline
protection) and the losses that are likely to result from
degradation across the Caribbean.
The analysis carried out by the Reefs at Risk project
relies on available data and predicted relationships but,
like other analytical models, presents a simplified picture
of human activities and complex natural processes. The
model does not capture all pressures on coral reefs, owing
both to limitations of the model and inaccuracies in the
geographic data sets used. In addition, two major, region-
wide threats to Caribbean coral reefs are not incorporated
into the Reefs at Risk analysis: coral diseases and coral
bleaching. Because of scientific uncertainty as well as lack
of spatial detail in the relevant data sets, it is not cur-
rently possible to produce accurate models of the present
and future distribution of threats from diseases and
bleaching. Existing information, however, suggests that
the threats are widespread, potentially affecting coral reefs
across the region.

Data sources used in the analysis are listed in
Appendix B. Details of the analysis method are
available online at



* The Reefs at Risk Threat Index indicates that nearly
two-thirds of coral reefs in the Caribbean are threat-
ened by human activities. Integrating threat levels from
all sources considered in this analysis (coastal develop-
ment, watershed-based sediment and pollution, marine-
based threats, and overfishing), the Reefs at Risk Threat
Index identified about one-tenth of Caribbean coral reefs
at very high levels of threat, one-third at high threat, one-
fifth at medium threat, and one-third at low threat. Areas
with high threat levels include the Eastern Caribbean,
most of the Southern Caribbean, Greater Antilles, Florida
Keys, Yucatan, and the nearshore portions of the Western
and Southwestern Caribbean. In these areas, degradation
of coral-including reduced live coral cover, increased
algal cover, or reduced species diversity-has already
occurred or is likely to occur within the next 5 to 10

years. Extensive tracts of reef in the Bahamas, Turks and
Caicos Islands, archipelagos off Colombia and Nicaragua,
and some reefs off Belize, Cuba, and Mexico were rated as
subject to low threats from human activities.

* An estimated one-third of Caribbean coral reefs are
threatened by coastal development. Our indicator of
coastal development threat identified about one-third of
the region's reefs as threatened by pressures associated
with coastal development, including sewage discharge,
urban runoff, construction, and tourist development.
Slightly over 15 percent were rated at high threat and a
similar percentage at medium threat. Coastal develop-
ment pressures were significant along the coastlines of
most of the Greater Antilles, Eastern Caribbean, the Bay
Islands in Honduras, along parts of the Florida Keys, the
Yucatan, and the Southern Caribbean.


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* Sediment and pollution from inland sources threaten
about one-third of Caribbean coral reefs. Analysis of
more than 3,000 watersheds across the region identified
20 percent of coral reefs at high threat and about 15 per-
cent at medium threat from damage caused by increased
sediment and pollution from agricultural lands and other
land modification. Erosion of agricultural soils, particu-
larly on steep slopes, can produce sediments that block
light needed for photosynthesis and eventually smother
coral reefs, while pollution from agricultural chemicals
such as fertilizers and pesticides can impede coral growth
or kill coral. Areas with a large proportion of reefs threat-
ened by watershed-based sediments and pollution were
found off Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, the high
islands of the Eastern Caribbean, Belize, Costa Rica, and

* Marine-based threats to coral reefs are widespread
across the Caribbean. Our indicator of marine-based
damage and pollution identified about 15 percent of
Caribbean reefs as threatened by discharge of wastewater
from cruise ships, tankers and yachts, leaks or spills from
oil infrastructure, and damage from ship groundings and
anchors. Threat was relatively high in many of the
Eastern Caribbean islands, Bermuda, Puerto Rico,
Jamaica, Panama, Aruba, and the Netherlands Antilles.

* Overfishing threatens over 60 percent of Caribbean
coral reefs. Fishing above sustainable levels affects coral
reefs by altering the ecological balance of the reef. The
removal of herbivorous fish, which consume algae, facili-
tates algal overgrowth of corals. Declines in coral cover
and increases in algal cover have been observed across the
region. This analysis identified about one-third of
Caribbean reefs at high threat from overfishing pressure
and about 30 percent at medium threat. The threat was
rated as high on almost all narrow coastal shelves close to
human population centers. Fishing pressure was lower in
the Bahamas, where the human population is small, and
in the Western and Southwestern Caribbean and Cuba,
where many reefs are far from the mainland.




Great r Anti lles
Eastern Caribbean
Southern Caribbean 0
western Caribbean
Western Caribbean
Gulf of Mexico i
Florda Total ree area approx. 26,000 km2
0 2,000 4,000 6,000 8,000 10,
REEF AREA (sq km)


Management Effectiveness of Caribbean MPAs

Inadequate 48%

Partal 13%

U. i -

Number of MPAs in the region is

Protection of the Caribbean's Coral Reefs

Reefs in MPAs rated as good, 1%
Reefs in MPAs rated
Reefs outside of as partially effective, 3%
MPAs, 80%
Reefs n MPAs rated as
inadequate, 9%

SReefs in MPAs under an unknowr
evel of management, 7%

Area of reefs in the region is
approximately 26,000 sq km.

* Diseases and rising sea temperatures threaten to dam-
age coral reefs across the Caribbean region. Although
not quantitatively assessed in this project, diseases and
warming sea surface temperatures present further, and
growing, region-wide threats to Caribbean coral reefs.
Diseases have caused profound changes in Caribbean
coral reefs in the past 30 years, with very few areas
unscathed by disease, even reefs far removed from
human influence. One of the region's major reef-building
corals has already been devastated by disease. In addition,
coral bleaching episodes-the most direct evidence of
stress from global climate change on Caribbean marine
biodiversity-are on the rise. The complex, synergistic

interactions between disease, climatic change, and other
human-induced stresses may heighten the overall level of
threat described above.

* Ineffective management of protected areas further
threatens Caribbean coral reefs. With the growth of
tourism, fisheries, and other development in coral reef
areas, marine protected areas (MPAs) are an important
tool for safeguarding coral reefs. At present, over 285
MPAs have been declared across the Caribbean, but the
level of protection afforded by MPAs varies considerably.
The Reefs at Risk Project found only 6 percent of MPAs
to be rated as effectively managed and 13 percent as hav-
ing partially effective management. An estimated 20 per-
cent of coral reefs are located inside MPAs, but only 4
percent are located in MPAs rated as effectively man-
aged. MPAs are but one tool available to reduce stress on
coastal resources, but are by no means a shelter from all
threats. This analysis of MPAs as a management tool is
an indicator of the inadequacy of current efforts to man-
age coastal resources and protect coral reefs.

The diver entry fee at Bonaire Marine Park helps to support one of the
best managed MPAs in the region.


* The coastal communities and national economies of
the Caribbean region are poised to sustain substantial
economic losses if current trends in coral reef degra-
dation continue. Coral reefs provide valuable goods and
services to support local and national economies, and
degradation of coral reefs can lead to significant eco-
nomic losses, particularly in the coastal areas of develop-
ing countries, through loss of fishing livelihoods, malnu-
trition due to lack of protein, loss of tourism revenues,
and increased coastal erosion. Analyses carried out by the
Reefs at Risk project indicate that Caribbean coral reefs
provide goods and services with an annual net economic
value in 2000 estimated at between US$3.1 billion and
US$4.6 billion from fisheries, dive tourism, and shore-
line protection services.

o Coral reef-associated fisheries in the Caribbean region
provide net annual revenues valued at an estimated
US$310 million. Degradation of the region's coral reefi
could reduce these net annual revenues by an estimated
US$95 million to US$140 million per year by 2015.

o Net benefits from dive tourism total an estimated
US$2.1 billion per year in 2000. Dive tourism is high-
value tourism, with divers typically spending 60-80
percent more than other tourists. By 2015, coral reef
degradation could result in annual losses of US$100 mil-
lion to US$300 million to the Caribbean tourism indus-
try. Losses to particular areas within the Caribbean
could be proportionately greater, as tourism shifts
away from areas where coral reefs have become
degraded and toward areas of remaining intact reefs.

o Coral reefs protect coastal shorelines by dissipating
wave and storm energy. The estimated value of shore-
line protection services provided by Caribbean reefs is
between US$700 million and US$2.2 billion per year.
Within the next 50 years, coral degradation and death
could lead to losses totaling US$140 million to US$420
million annually.


The coral reefs of the Caribbean, a mainstay of the region's
economic and social health, are beset by a wide range of
threats resulting from human activities. Degradation of
coral reefs damages not only the integrity of these impor-
tant ecosystems but also the health, safety, and livelihoods
of the human societies that depend on them. Although the
potential human and economic losses are great, actions to
reverse the threats to Caribbean coral reefs can often be
undertaken at very low cost, with very high financial and
societal returns, even in the short term.
Actions are required across a range of scales-from
local to national and international. Such actions include the
establishment of better management practices to encourage
sustainable fisheries, to protect reefs from direct damage,
and to integrate the sometimes conflicting approaches to
management in the watersheds and adjacent waters around
coral reefs. Fundamental to supporting these actions is
wider involvement of the public and stakeholders in the
management process, as well as an improved level of under-
standing of the importance of coral reefs. Better under-
standing of the economic value of coastal ecosystems and of
the linkages between human activities and changes in coral
reef condition will further support and underpin the neces-
sary changes in management and will strengthen political
and societal support for these changes.
To these ends, we recommend the following specific

Create the Will for Change

* Raise awareness of the importance, value, and
fragility of coral reefs through targeted education
campaigns. Many residents and visitors to the
Caribbean fail to realize and understand the connections
between their own activities and the health of coral reefs.
Educators, universities, nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs), and others should help change behavior and
build political will for policy change by developing and
disseminating educational materials aimed at key audi-
ences, such as community groups, fishers, workers in the
tourist industry, tourists, developers, politicians, and stu-


m Factor the economic value of coral reef goods and
services into development planning, policies, and
projects. Incorporating information on the economic
value of the goods and services provided by coral reefs can
help bolster arguments for strengthening and expanding
reef protection and management programs. Researchers
should undertake additional, regionally consistent eco-
nomic valuation studies of Caribbean coral reefs, and
decision-makers should use the results of these studies to
debate the true costs of development options and select
development that minimizes damage to reef ecosystems.

Build Capacity for Change

m Develop local and national expertise for better man-
agement of coral reef ecosystems through training of
resource managers and decision-makers. Financial
resources, educational levels, and availability of training
vary widely across the region, and the small size of many
countries undermines their ability to sustain full scien-
tific and administrative capacities. National governments,
international organizations, NGOs, and others should
support and implement expanded provision of training
to coastal resource managers and decision-makers across
the region.

Sharing ideas, knowledge, and success stories is fundamental to develop-
ing management capacity.

* Encourage free flow and exchange of information and
experience about management and protection of coral
reef resources. Across the Caribbean, there are examples
of excellence in management, training programs, govern-

ment and community involvement, research, and moni-
toring. International NGOs and intergovernmental agen-
cies should facilitate increased sharing of information and
expertise among countries, among government agencies,
and among scientists and management agencies.

* Facilitate stakeholder participation in decision-mak-
ing about management and protection of coral reef
resources. The absence of community inclusion and
participation has played a key role in the failure of many
reef management efforts. National governments and
resource managers need to apply collaborative and coop-
erative approaches to coral reef management, making
sure to involve all stakeholder groups.

* Create the systems of governance required for effec-
tive management of coral reefs. In many cases, the
activities of different groups, agencies, or even interna-
tional bodies concerned with management of marine
resources overlap and even conflict. National govern-
ments can facilitate good governance of the coastal zone
by carrying out national assessments of the institutional
and legal framework for executing policy and updating
institutional and legal frameworks where necessary.

* Integrate socioeconomic and environmental monitor-
ing to increase understanding of coastal habitats.
Good management requires continued access to informa-
tion about natural resources and how they change over
time and in response to natural and human influences.
The scientific community and resource managers should
move toward monitoring programs that integrate
human, physical, and ecological data.

* Use the Reefs at Risk indicators and apply the analyt-
ical methodology at finer resolutions to support deci-
sion-making on coral reef management. The analysis
and tools developed under this project provide a valuable
and low-cost means of understanding potential pressures
on coral reefs. National, provincial, and local resource
agencies should contribute to the development of similar


indicators at a finer scale to help increase confidence in
and support for wise management decisions.

Improve Management
* Develop sustainable fisheries through education,
stakeholder involvement, and reduced intensity of
fishing practices. Fishing is exceeding sustainable levels
in most Caribbean countries. National governments
should work with resource users and other stakeholder
groups to implement sustainable fishing policies and
practices. Licensing, incentives for sustainable practices,
and penalties for illegal fishing can help reduce the
intensity of fishing practices. The establishment of "no
take areas" or "marine fishery reserves" can be adopted,
in part, as a strategy to replenish depleted fish stocks.
Critical to the success of such reserves will be involving
and educating stakeholders and providing alternative
income generation.

* Apply holistic approaches to coastal zone manage-
ment. Successful management of coral reef ecosystems
entails dealing effectively with multiple influences and
threats, many of which can be traced to activities taking
place at considerable distances from the reefs themselves.
National governments need to provide incentives for
agencies with disparate mandates and conflicting agendas
to share information and work together effectively.

* Expand Marine Protected Areas and improve their
management effectiveness in safeguarding coral reef
ecosystems. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are an
important component of comprehensive coastal-area
management; however, only a small percentage of coral
reefs are located within designated MPAs and only a
small percentage of MPAs are rated as fully or partially
effective. National governments, donors, NGOs, and the
private sector need to support expansion of MPAs to
cover additional coral reefs and to provide assistance to
strengthen the management effectiveness of many exist-
ing MPAs.

* Develop tourism sustainably to ensure long-term
benefits. Tourism is vital to the Caribbean region, but
unplanned, unrestricted development can severely dam-
age coral reefs. Decision-makers should take steps to
limit such damage, including education of tourists and
development of certification schemes, accreditation, and
awards for good environmental practices as incentives for
environmentally sensible development.

* Implement good marine practices to restrict dumping
of waste at sea and the clearing of ballast waters.
Regional bodies, national governments, NGOs, and the
private sector should work together to develop best prac-
tices (for example, in the cruise industry). Ports, harbors,
and marinas need to offer pump-out and waste treatment
facilities for vessels of all sizes.

International Action

* Ratify and implement international agreements.
International agreements are an important tool for set-
ting targets and achieving collective goals. National gov-
ernments should not only sign but also implement
important international agreements addressing the
threats evaluated in this study, including the Cartagena
Convention (addressing land-based sources of pollution,
oil spills, and protected areas and wildlife), the United
Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea (on
ocean governance), MARPOL (on marine pollution),
and the UN Framework Convention on Climate

* Promote international cooperation and exchange.
Even in the absence of international legal instruments,
regional collaboration on issues such as fisheries and
watershed management could greatly reduce some
threats. International NGOs, intergovernmental agen-
cies, and funding organizations can actively support
cooperation and exchange to promote synergy and foster
partnerships to protect Caribbean coral reefs.


ISBN 1-56973-574-3

9781569 735749

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