AsianScientist (Jan. 14, 2013) – China’s coral reefs have suffered a devastating 80 percent decline in recent decades, driven mainly by the country’s unrestrained economic development, according to a new study.
New research published in the journal Conservation Biology reveals a grim picture of decline, degradation, and destruction along mainland China and in the South China Sea.
The research was conducted by Professor Terry Hughes and Matthew Young of the Australian Research Council Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University, and Dr. Hui Huang of the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.
“China’s ongoing economic expansion has exacerbated many wicked environmental problems, including widespread habitat loss due to coastal development, unsustainable levels of fishing, and pollution,” the report states.
“We found that coral abundance has declined by at least 80 percent over the past 30 years on coastal fringing reefs along the Chinese mainland and adjoining Hainan Island. On offshore atolls and archipelagos claimed by six countries in the South China Sea, coral cover has declined from an average of >60 percent to around 20 percent within the past 10-15 years,” the authors write.
The researchers note that climate change has affected the reefs to a smaller extent than coastal development, pollution, overfishing, and destructive fishing practices.
“Typically, when a coral reef degrades it is taken over by seaweeds – and from there, experience has shown, it is very hard to return it to its natural coral cover. The window of opportunity to recover the reefs of the South China Sea is closing rapidly, given the state of degradation revealed in this study,” Hughes says.
The scientists conclude that the loss of coral cover in the South China Sea, as elsewhere, is due mainly to a failure of governance on the part of the nations responsible for the marine environment.
China and other countries in the region have recently established a number of marine parks, but they are too small and too far apart to prevent the decline in coral cover, the authors say.
The fact that the corals of the South China Sea region cover an area of 30,000 square kilometers and are claimed by several different countries makes conservation and management particularly difficult, the authors say. Cases such as the Spratly Islands, which are claimed by six different countries, highlight the dilemma.
“There is no quick fix to a wicked problem as complex as securing a sustainable future for coral reefs in China and the South China Sea,” they add.
“We suggest that governance of China’s coastal reefs can be improved by increasing public awareness, by legal and institutional reform that promotes progressive change, by providing financial support for training of reef scientists and managers, expanding monitoring of coral reef status and dynamics, and by enforcing existing regulations that protect reef ecosystems.”
The article can be found at: Hughes TP et al. (2012) The Wicked Problem of China’s Disappearing Coral Reefs.
Source: ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.
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