Coral Reefs and What Ruins Them

Published: February 26, 2008
The New York Times

Researchers who studied a string of Pacific Ocean atolls are painting the first detailed picture of pristine coral reefs and how they can be disrupted by people — particularly, they said, by fishing.

The researchers, from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and elsewhere in the United States and abroad, surveyed every form of life last summer in the northern Line Islands, a chain south of Hawaii. Their survey encompassed everything from microbes to sharks and other big fish at the top of the food chain.

“Reefs without people” were healthier than populated reefs, they say in a report to be posted Wednesday in the online journal PLoS ONE. The ecosystems at Kingman and Palmyra, the northernmost and least populated atolls, are dominated by large predators like sharks and groupers, and corals there are robust, they said, while Tabuaeran and Kiritimati to the south, the most populated atolls, are characterized by fleshy algae, small plankton-eating fish and degraded corals.

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View the SLIDE SHOW with beautiful pictures of reefs in the Line Islands

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