Ratcheting Down the Coral Reefs

Birkeland, Charles
November 2004
BioScience;Nov2004, Vol. 54 Issue 11, p1021
Academic Journal
Coral reefs are continuing to deteriorate around the world, despite millions of dollars' worth of government effort per year, the commitment of more than 450 nongovernmental organizations, and a long list of successful accomplishments. Researchers and managers must become more aware of positive feedback, including the self-reinforcing ecological, technological, economic, cultural and conceptual processes that accelerate the degradation of coral reefs. Much of the research on coral reef damage has focused on its proximal causes (e.g., global warming, increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, overfishing, pollution, sedimentation, and disease) rather than its ultimate causes, the increasing human population and associated economic demands. To stop the deterioration of coral reef ecosystems, management must be proactive, terminating the self-reinforcing processes of coral reef degradation rather than perpetually restoring reefs or resource stocks. This can be accomplished only by clarifying the entire economic picture to instill more responsible behavior in the public.


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