World Bulletin / News Desk
Many of the Caribbean's coral reefs could vanish in the next 20 years, according to a report published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Data from more than 35,000 surveys suggests that since the 1970s habitats have declined by more than 50%.
The report's authors believe that over-fishing and disease is mainly to blame. They say that with protection the reefs can bounce back, but if nothing is done the trend will continue.
Carl Gustaf Lundin, director of IUCN's Global Marine and Polar Programme, said the findings were alarming.
"The reefs support a number of different countries and populations," he said.
"Tourism is one of the biggest industries, and the health of the reef is essential to the well-being of many of the people living there. And of course they are immensely beautiful and wonderful places as well."
The Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network looked at data collected between 1970 and 2012 from 90 reef habitats and is the most comprehensive assessment of corals in this region.
The authors said that damage had been driven by the loss of some of the reefs' key inhabitants.
It was thought that a disease was brought in from the Panama Canal that wipes out a large number of sea urchins, in the 1980s. Many of these creatures graze on reefs, and without them, algal species take over.
Dr Lundin said: "We saw that reefs with no grazers ended up getting smothered by algae. And after a period of time they see a significant or even complete collapse of the reef area."
"If we do nothing, I'm afraid the most likely scenario is that we will continue the slippery slope to slime," he said.
"We'll lose a tremendous amount of coral cover and we'll end up with algal reefs with a much lower diversity of species."
However, reports show us that the coral reefs could be retrieved if protected.
Dr Lundin said: "We have been able to document a number of cases where we've seen recovery of degraded reefs, so that is very positive - it means we shouldn't give up hope."Last Mod: 02 Temmuz 2014, 13:16