The causes of these widespread declines in reef “health” remain contested, although there is nearly unanimous agreement that the leading suspect is coral disease – ultimately stemming from human impacts. Declining water quality, extensive coastal development, overfishing, and direct and indirect tourism impacts are all believed to have contributed to conditions favoring the growth and spread of coral diseases.
In recognition of the intrinsic value and vulnerability of coral reef ecosystems, many Caribbean nations are now actively engaged in developing more Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) along with increasingly stringent regulations aimed at better protecting these resources. Still, signs of recovery remain slight if any in most areas.
The bottom line is that healthy coral reefs and large nearby human populations seem incompatible. Rather, it would appear (as John Hammond, fictional creator of Jurassic Park, so aptly quipped), “These creatures require our absence to survive, not our help.”
A great place to begin your exploration of these topics in greater depth is the newly released (2015) Caribbean Coral Reefs: An Introduction. This beginner’s guide to the structure, habitats, and marine life of these undersea marvels is available for PC-based E-readers at the Kindle Store, and for Apple-based E-readers (including iPad) through the iBooks Store within iTunes.