A recent study published in Current Biology by a group of international researchers shows that Caribbean reef fish populations have been steadily declining for more than a decade. The researchers used a technique called meta-analysis to examine the results of 48 previous studies of Caribbean reef fish populations conducted between 1955 and 2007; their analysis includes more than 318 reefs and 273 fish species.
Many factors likely played a role in the continuous population decline; however the widespread loss of coral reefs is believed to be largely to blame. Although coral reefs in the region have been disappearing for over 30 years, the study demonstrates that fish were not immediately impacted, since it takes some time for the coral to break apart and lose appeal as a shelter for fish.
Michelle Paddack, lead author of the study, says, “What will turn things around is the awareness of people to the grave losses that are occurring on reefs and their desire to save them, translating into actions that move from personal to affecting how we sustainably manage these beautiful and important ecosystems.”
Fortunately, projects to protect and recover coral and reef fish species are underway, such as a regional initiative headed by the United Nations Caribbean Environment Program.