Friday, July 13, 2012

Coral reef decline disproportionately impacts the developing world

The International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS), on right now in Cairns, Australia, is generating headlines about the plight of the world's coral reefs in the face of climate change and ocean acidification. Perhaps we should call it ocean change.

Amid the Disney movies and all the colourful documentaries about coral reefs, it is easy for people in the mid-latitudes to miss the fact that coral reefs provide valuable "services" - food, shoreline protection and income - to millions and millions of people most of whom are in the developing world. For a paper in Bioscience five years ago, David Potere and I calculated the number of people living close to coral reefs. The map below shows coral reef locations in red, with dot size exaggerated for viewing purposes, and the per-capita GDP shaded in green. According to our analysis over 63 percent of the people were living within 100 km of coral reefs, a total of 415 million people, reside in countries with a per capita GDP less than US$5000 (in 2003 dollars).  

In the past few years, scientists have finally woken up to this fact, and though I am not there, I can tell you that a lot of the work at conferences like ICRS is now devoted to the human implications of coral reef decline and to finding good adaptation strategies.

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