29 Sep 2011:
Scientists Identify 8 Changes
That Precipitate Collapse of Coral Reefs
After analyzing data from coral reef systems in the western Indian Ocean, an international team of scientists has documented an eight-step process
— much of it linked to overfishing — that leads to reef collapse. The group, which includes researchers from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, said the health of the coral reefs was directly tied to the density of fish in those ecosystems. The results, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, said that thriving, well-protected reefs typically have 1,000 to 1,500 kilograms of fish per hectare, and that as the density drops below 1,000 kilograms, early warning signs appear, including seaweed growth and sea urchin activity. Below a density of 300 kilograms of fish per hectare, reef ecosystems face collapse, the scientists said. Fish are vital to reef ecosystems because they crop back the algae that would otherwise smother the reefs. The study found that reefs where fishing was strictly prohibited were the most healthy and that unprotected reefs fared the worse. But the study concluded that even modest restrictions on fishing around coral reefs can help maintain a healthy reef ecosystem. The study did not focus on global changes, such as coral bleaching and ocean acidification, that also pose a threat to coral reefs.
Yale Environment 360 is
a publication of the
Yale School of Forestry
& Environmental Studies
Yale Environment 360
articles are now available in Spanish and Portuguese on Universia
, the online educational network. Visit the site.
Business & Innovation
Policy & Politics
Pollution & Health
Science & Technology
Antarctica and the Arctic
Central & South America
Tribal people and ranchers join together to stop a project that would haul coal across their Montana land. Watch the video.
is now available for mobile devices at e360.yale.edu/mobile
The 2015 Yale e360 Video Contest winner documents a Northeastern town's bitter battle over a wind farm. Watch the video.
A 2015 Yale e360 Video Contest winner captures stunning images of wild salmon runs in Alaska. Watch the video.
video series looks at the staggering amount of food wasted in the U.S. – a problem with major human and environmental costs. Watch the video.
video goes onto the front lines with Colorado firefighters confronting deadly blazes fueled by a hotter, drier climate. Watch the video.
A three-part series Tainted Harvest
looks at the soil pollution crisis in China, the threat it poses to the food supply, and the complexity of any cleanup. Read the series.