The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a report last week declaring that coral reef ecosystems are declining in American waters due to "a wide array of significant threats" including overfishing, climate change, marine diseases, land-based pollution, storms and grounded ships. The agency is particularly concerned about the findings because of the importance of coral reefs in providing nutrients and habitat for marine wildlife and protecting shorelines from erosion.
The study utilized data from 160 scientists monitoring water quality and the status of marine wildlife dependent on coral reefs for their survival. Given that NOAA has only been studying coral reefs specifically for the last five years, researchers report they have been surprised to see so much decline in such a short amount of time. An international study conducted last year by 240 scientists in 96 countries concluded that only 30 percent of the world's coral reefs are healthy, down from 40 percent just two years earlier.
Global warming remains the wild card among the threats listed by NOAA. Rising sea temperatures due to global warming can kill coral. And when coral reefs die, so do thousands of species of fish dependent on them. The NOAA report highlights reef die-off in Guam, a U.S. protectorate in the North Pacific, as directly attributable to the global warming that scientists believe has already begun.