Health and degradation of coral reefs: assessment and future

Coral reefs are in a crisis. We wonder about their survival in the face of human demographic pressures and anthropogenic degradation as well as considering the predictions of climate change. In short, what will happen to coral reefs under the influence of global change?

The main characteristics of the coral reef ecosystem are recalled related to corals and their association with algae, as builders due to calcification, on their distribution, biodiversity and biogeography. Services to human are many with the existence of islands, protection of coastal zones, fisheries and food security, sources of material, development of tourism, pearl culture, etc., all services which have been economically evaluated. Coral reefs suffer from natural events of which they recover since they exist (cyclones, bleaching and mortality, outbreaks of predators, diseases) except if these events succeed too frequently. Anthropogenic causes of degradation increased since half of the last century under the pressure of demography and development (filling, digging, sedimentation, wastewaters with nutrients and pollutants, overfishing, tourism substructure). Nevertheless, coral reef health status is variable according to regions. Factors of climate change will be either beneficial for coral reefs (sea level rise), probably with no more impact than today (cyclones), or much worrying (sea temperature increase, acidification).

We comment predictions on the future of coral reefs which have been published. Along with time, the threats for the future of coral reefs changed in the scientific community due to science progress. Acidification is a good example appearing less than two decades ago and presently the most worrying factor, as well as adaptation of corals to temperature which was unsuspected one decade ago. These facts lead us to consider that published predictions will be modified by new discoveries and incline us to be cautious. We comment on the catastrophic ambiance which characterises the scientific production on the future of coral reefs amplified by the media in our society.

Salvat B., 2015. Health and degradation of coral reefs: assessment and future. In Ceccaldi H.-J. et al. (Eds.), Marine Productivity: Perturbations and Resilience of Socio-ecosystems, part VI, pp. 343-354. Book chapter (subscription required).

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