Corals: facing the death sentence

The future for corals does not look bright. That’s the message from the first in-depth analysis of 2005’s widespread coral bleaching in the Caribbean

Bleached coral head, Bahamas.

Exceptionally warm water temperatures, combined with the effects of hurricanes, devastated a huge number of coral reefs in the Caribbean in 2005.

In a report launched today outlining the damage caused, scientists warn that the same thing will undoubtedly reoccur, with catastrophic effects.

“Sadly for coral reefs, it’s highly likely extreme warming will happen again,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Head of IUCN’s Global Marine Programme. “When it does, the impacts will be even more severe. If we don’t do something about climate change, the reefs won’t be with us for much longer.”

Among the worst hit regions of the Caribbean was the area stretching from Florida through to the French West Indies and the Cayman Islands, where in August 2005 severe bleaching affected between 50% and 95% of coral colonies and killed more than half, particularly in the Lesser Antilles.

The report warns that the only way for corals on reefs around the world to survive is to manage direct pressures, such as fishing and pollution, then hope that some coral species are able to adapt to a warmer environment.

Not only are coral reefs a vital part of the marine ecosystem, they also bring in huge amounts of money. Caribbean coral reefs provide an estimated US$3.1 billion to $4.6 billion per year from fisheries, dive tourism and shoreline protection services.

“This is a pivotal moment for coral reefs,” say the report’s authors Clive Wilkinson and David Souter. “A dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the next 20 years will be critical to control further warming and dangerously high CO2 levels that will reduce the robustness of corals.”

The report marks the beginning of the International Year of the Reef 2008, a worldwide campaign to raise awareness about the value of coral reefs and the threats they face. It also aims to motivate people to take action to protect them.

Notes to editors

For an executive summary of the full report, Status of Caribbean Coral Reefs after Bleaching and Hurricanes in 2005, please view: PDF

For more information contact:

Sarah Halls, IUCN Global Communications, mobile +41792472926,

Brian Thomson, IUCN Global Communications, mobile +417972182326,

Materials for the Media:

Audio Interview: Carl Gustaf Lundin is Director og IUCN’s Global Marine Programme

He explains what is the thrust of this report?

English [mp3]

Why are corals so important to the economy in the Caribbean?

English [mp3]

We saw what happened during the coral bleaching event of 2005, will things get worse in the future?

English [mp3]

What are you recommending be done to minimize stress upon coral reefs?

English [mp3]

About the World Conservation Union (IUCN)

Created in 1948, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) brings together 83 States, 111 government agencies, 800 plus NGOs, and some 10,000 scientists and experts from 148 countries in a unique worldwide partnership. The Union’s mission is to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.  The Union is the world's largest environmental knowledge network and has helped over 75 countries to prepare and implement national conservation and biodiversity strategies. The Union is a multicultural, multilingual organization with 1,000 staff located in 62 countries. Its headquarters are in Gland, Switzerland. More information can be found at

About International Year of the Reef

Ten years ago, 1997 was declared the International Year of the Reef (IYOR). The first IYOR campaign was initiated in response to the increasing threats and loss of coral reefs and associated ecosystems, like mangroves and sea grasses. IYOR 97 was a global effort to increase awareness and understanding of coral reefs, and support conservation, research and management efforts.

Recognizing that 10 years after IYOR 97 there continues to be an urgent need to increase awareness and understanding of coral reefs, and to further conserve and manage valuable coral reef and associated ecosystems, the International Coral Reef Initiative designated 2008 as the International Year of the Reef (IYOR 2008).

IYOR 2008, launched on Thursday, 24 January, will:

  • Strengthen awareness about the ecological, economic, social and cultural value of coral reefs and associated ecosystems
  • Improve understanding of the critical threats to coral reefs and generate both practical and innovative solutions to reduce these threats
  • Generate urgent action at all levels to develop and implement effective management strategies for conservation and sustainable use of these ecosystems.

IUCN is one of the Organization Focal Points for IYOR 2008
To find out more, please visit the website:

Work area: 
Climate Change
North America
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