The chance to snorkel over stands of tan-colored, 6-8 foot tall, finger-like coral could soon be a thing of the past. Pillar Coral, (Dendrogyra cylindrus), found throughout the Caribbean from the Yucatan Peninsula and Florida to Trinidad and Tobago, is now on the Critically Endangered list. This news comes from the December-announced update to the Red List of Threatened Species by the Montreal, Canada-headquartered International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s largest and most diverse environmental network.
Pillar Coral’s move from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered is because its population has shrunk by over 80% across most of its range since 1990. The most urgent threat to Pillar Coral is Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. This has emerged in the past four years and is highly contagious, infecting between 290- and 320-feet of reef per day. Bleaching caused by increased sea surface temperatures and excess antibiotics, fertilizers, and sewage running into the sea have weakened corals and made them more susceptible to disease. Overfishing around coral reefs has depleted the number of grazing fish, allowing algae to dominate and putting further pressure on corals. On the positive side, research is and has been underway to stop this disease with some successes so far.
“The pillar coral is just one of the 26 corals now listed as Critically Endangered in the Atlantic Ocean, where almost half of all corals are now at elevated risk of extinction due to climate change and other impacts,” says Dr. Beth Polidoro, associate professor at Arizona State University and Red List Coordinator for the IUCN SSC Coral Specialist Group. “These alarming results emphasize the urgency of global cooperation and action to address climate change impacts on ocean ecosystems.” www.iucn.org