Home News Local news Scientist: Large Coral Disappearing From St. John's South Coast

Scientist: Large Coral Disappearing From St. John's South Coast


Nov. 1, 2006 – Abnormally warm weather, coupled with pollution and overfishing, have contributed to a rapid decline in St. John's large coral, said Peter Edmunds, a biology professor at California State University, Northridge, who has studied St. John coral for 20 years.
Edmunds, speaking Tuesday at the University of the Virgin Islands, said small "weedy" coral are replacing the larger, reef-building species that provide habitats for fish and storm-surge protection for beaches.
Species such as the boulder star coral, which reach several yards across, take hundreds of years to grow. Edmunds predicted they could be gone from much of the U.S. Virgin Islands in less than 50 years.
In Jamaica, he said, the species has been almost completely replaced by mustard hill coral, a smaller species unable to make large reefs.
Edmunds' research suggests coral grow much slower in warmer water, decreasing its likelihood of reaching sexual maturity.
"The less time it has as a baby, the greater chance it has for survival," he said.
U.S. government scientists Tuesday also warned that sea temperatures around Puerto Rico had exceeded levels healthy for coral, saying the fragile undersea life could become more susceptible to damage and disease.
According to Mark Eakin, director of U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch, sea temperatures in September reached 85.5 degrees Fahrenheit around the U.S. Virgin Islands and 85.1 degrees around Puerto Rico — warm enough to damage coral if waters do not cool after a few weeks.
After hot summers, sea temperatures usually cool in late October, Eakin said. "We'd expect it to start cooling down soon," Eakin said in a telephone interview. "Hopefully we're right."
Edmunds said that, in the Caribbean, coral grow and reproduce best at about 81.5 degrees.
At the Coral Reef Task Force's biannual meeting in St. Thomas last week, top researchers backed an Australian study that said up to 60 percent of the world's coral reefs could die by 2030.
Edmunds recently started research projects near Tahiti and Taiwan, where he plans to compare Pacific data with that gathered in the U.S. Caribbean territory.
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