Science Notes & News by Eric Borneman & Ronald L. Shimek, Ph. D.

Ronald L. Shimek, Ph. D.

Editor's Note:

While we sit at home and enjoy our hobby, it is important to remember the precarious situation of coral reefs in nature. Here are a couple of recent articles you should find worth reading and considering. Pandolfi et al., describe the long-term decline of coral reefs, and give the reasonable, although totally disheartening, prediction that coral reefs are effectively doomed. Jones et al., discuss how as the coral goes, so goes the associated fauna, in this case, the fishes. As individuals there are only a few reasonable courses of action to take in toward conserving what remains of coral reefs. These include membership in the appropriate conservation societies and lobbying your legislators. It is in our interest as aquarists - to say nothing of our interest as responsible individuals - to take some action in this situation. I hope these articles will provide some impetus to any fence-sitters in the readership.

Jones, G. P., M. I. McCormick, M. Srinivasan, and J. V. Eagle. 2004. Coral decline threatens fish biodiversity in marine reserves. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101: 8251-8253.


The worldwide decline in coral cover has serious implications for the health of coral reefs. But what is the future of reef fish assemblages? Marine reserves can protect fish from exploitation, but do they protect fish biodiversity in degrading environments? The answer appears to be no, as indicated by our 8-year study in Papua, New Guinea. A devastating decline in coral cover caused a parallel decline in fish biodiversity, both in marine reserves and in areas open to fishing. Over 75% of reef fish species declined in abundance, and 50% declined to less than half of their original numbers. The greater the dependence species have on living coral as juvenile recruitment sites, the greater the observed decline in abundance. Several rare coral-specialists became locally extinct. We suggest that fish biodiversity is threatened wherever permanent reef degradation occurs and warn that marine reserves will not always be sufficient to ensure their survival.

Pandolfi, J. M., R. H. Bradbury, E. Sala, T. P. Hughes, K. A. Bjorndal, R. G. Cooke, D. McArdle, L. McClenachan, M. J. H. Newman, G. Paredes, R. R. Warner, J. B. C. Jackson. 2003. Global Trajectories of the Long-Term Decline of Coral Reef Ecosystems. Science. 301: 955-958.


Degradation of coral reef ecosystems began centuries ago, but there is no global summary of the magnitude of change. We compiled records, extending back thousands of years, of the status and trends of seven major guilds of carnivores, herbivores, and architectural species from 14 regions. Large animals declined before small animals and architectural species, and Atlantic reefs declined before reefs in the Red Sea and Australia, but the trajectories of decline were markedly similar worldwide. All reefs were substantially degraded long before outbreaks of coral disease and bleaching. Regardless of these new threats, reefs will not survive without immediate protection from human exploitation over large spatial scales.

If you have any questions about this article or suggestions for future topics, please visit the respective author's forum on Reef Central (Eric Borneman's or Ronald L. Shimek's).

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Science Notes & News by Eric Borneman & Ronald L. Shimek, Ph. D.-