Coral reef ecosystems benefit humans commercially, recreationally, aesthetically and environmentally and are among of the most diverse, complex, and beautiful ecosystems on earth. Because of the interconnections which can develop between coral reefs, mangrove forests, and seagrass beds, these ecosystems are also considered in this report, where these are found to lie in close proximity to coral reefs.

The declining state of coral reef ecosystems has sparked concern by scientists, managers and government officials. The 1991 U.S.-sponsored workshop on coral bleaching, coral reef ecosystems, and global climate change; the 1992 Seventh International Coral Reef Symposium in Guam; and the 1993 meeting of experts on Global Aspects of Coral Reefs: Health, Hazards and History held at the Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science in Miami, all stressed these concerns. In addition, the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development specifically mentioned coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangroves as marine ecosystems of high biodiversity and production and recommended that they be accorded high priority for identification and protection. The growing support for the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) by nations around the world confirms the seriousness of the problem and demonstrates their willingness to take action.

The abundant biological diversity of the coral reef ecosystem, not only includes coral and the commercially important species associated with the reef but also tens of thousands of other plant and animal species. Thus, the status and trends of this ecosystem are not easily evaluated. Historically, most coral reef surveys have been limited to discrete reefs or species or have been time-limited (Rogers 1985; Dustin and Halas 1987; Porter and Meier 1992; Bythell et al. 1992; Ginsburg 1994).

The status and trends of complete coral reef ecosystems around entire islands or reef tracts (e.g., the entire Florida reef tract) have never been comprehensively evaluated because of the complexity, length of time, and cost of such endeavors. Because of this lack of a comprehensive understanding of the status and trends of coral reef ecosystems on large scales, this report takes a very broad look at general patterns in the status and trends of these ecosystems today, the consequences of coral reef ecosystem degradation to human populations, and some of the major existing management and research programs.

Preliminary recommendations -- arising from the references cited and from available ICRI regional reports -- for conserving these valuable resources are also summarized. The references cited are mainly those of comprehensive works and were chosen to help lead the reader to further sources of information.

The regional reef maps are the best available, produced from an ongoing global coral reef mapping project. Lines on the map are restricted to shallow and emergent reefs, which make up perhaps 10 percent of the total area of reefs in the world, but they provide a fair portrayal of the general distribution of reefs. Likewise the mangrove data are prepared from an ongoing global mapping initiative, although data are currently incomplete or missing from some countries. Points on the maps in the global perspective include published and unpublished reports but not unwritten reports. They represent literature citations that have been entered into the ReefBase System to date and represent about 20 percent of what is actually available. They are roughly representative of the stresses on a broad scale.

It is hoped that this concise summary will provide a useful focus for ICRI participants in their efforts to finalize a Call to Action and Framework for Action during the initial global workshop in the Philippines in May, 1995. This workshop will be followed by regional ICRI workshops, all oriented toward obtaining governmental and non-governmental commitments toward ensuring the sustainable management and conservation of coral reef resources around the world.

The authors wish to thank: Katherine Geenan and Thomas Urbaniak for research assistance; Corinna Ravilious for map work; Susan Holly for editorial/publication support; Mark Jacobsen, Mike Shelby, and Scott Travis for computer support; and Susan Drake, Mark Eakin, Steve Gittings, Lynn Hale, Karen Koltes, Ben Mieremet, Arthur Paterson, Rodney Salm, Susan Wells, and Jeremey Woodley for comments on the report.

State of the Reefs * May 1995

On to Tropical Americas

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