Eighteenth Century Maps Reveal How Badly We Have Damaged Coral Reefs

Posted: Sep 9 2017, 9:01am CDT | by , Updated: Sep 9 2017, 9:09am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Eighteenth Century Maps Reveal How Badly We have Damaged Coral Reefs
Credit: University of Queensland

New analysis says that the region of Florida Keys has lost more than half of its coral reef structures

Early British sailors tend to use nautical charts to navigate through seas and to avoid collisions with other vessels. Now, modern researchers are using these maps to measure the full extent of coral reef loss.

When an international team of Australian and US researchers compared those 240-year-old maps with today’s coral habitat charts in Florida Keys, they came up with shocking results. According to their analysis, entire sections of reef near the shore that were present two centuries ago do not exist longer. The death toll is close to 90 percent in some areas, particularly near land. In contrast, most coral habitats mapped further from land still have coral reefs.

"We found that some reefs had completely disappeared," said University of Queensland Professor John Pandolfi.

“We found that reef used to exist in areas that today are not even classified as reef habitat anymore. When you add this to the 75 per cent loss of living coral in the Keys at that finer scale, the magnitude of change is much greater than anyone thought.”

Coral reefs are large delicate underwater structures. These structures harbor some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. But coral reef systems around the world are in danger. Their large sections are already dead due to bleaching, overfishing and rising ocean temperatures while the remaining could disappear in the next few decades. The speed of the destruction is what most alarms scientists and conservationists.

In this case, researchers identified 143 coral reefs in ancient charts, stretching from Key Largo to the Marquesas Keys, 20 miles west of Key West and found that the region has lost more than half of its coral structures. These chars not only redefine a natural baseline but also support the results of modern maps.

“They had the best technology and they used it to create new information that conferred a lot of power," said Dr Benjamin Neal, a researcher at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay.

“The maps were essential to expansion of the British Empire, and luckily for us, they also included a lot of useful ecological information."

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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