Coral reefs have shaped the surface of our planet far more than has any other ecosystem. They are dynamic systems, producing limestone at the rate of 400-2,000 tons per hectare per year, and influencing the chemical balance of the world's oceans. Coral reefs have been around since before the prairies or other ecosystems of flowering plants existed, yet they vanish about a million years before other groups of organisms each time there is a global mass extinction. They return after each catastrophe, however, following a long period of absence. Although coral reefs are the most productive communities in the sea, the fisheries of coral reefs are among the most vulnerable to overexploitation. Despite having the power to create the most massive structures in the world made by living creatures (including man), the thin veneer of living tissue of coral reef is particularly sensitive to natural disturbances and effects of human activities. Coral reefs are the first to go during periods of climate change, but they have always come back. This combination of attributes, creative power and fragility, resilience and sensitivity, makes management of coral-reef systems a challenge to science. Over 70% of the coral reefs in the Caribbean and Asian waters have been degraded, and perhaps a third of the 400 species of corals in Japanese waters are in danger of local extinction unless effective coastal management practices are established. This book presents what is known about factors that shift the balance between accretion and erosion, recruitment and mortality, stony corals and filamentous algae, recovery and degradation--the life and death of coral reefs. Insight into the factors controlling the direction of these processes is essential for appropriate management decisions.
What sets it apart is that the editor, Chuck Birkeland, has charged his distinguished group of seventeen contributors with examining the ebb and flow of life on reefs, and how this can be affected by people. - Reef Encounter, JUly 1997
Introduction. Reefs and reef limestones in earth history. Reefs as dynamic systems. Bioerosion and coral-reef growth: a dynamic balance. Interactions between corals and their symbiotic algae. Diseases of coral-reef organisims. Organic production and decomposition. Reproduction and recruitment in corals: critical links in the persistence of reefs. Invertebrate predators and grazers. Effects of reef fishes on coral and algae. Indirect interactions on the coral reefs. Geographic differences in ecological processes on coral reefs. Ecosystem Interactions in the tropical coastal seascape. Diversity and distribution of reef organisms. Disturbances to reefs in recent times. Traditional coral-reefs fisheries management. Resource use: conflicts and management solutions. Implications for resource management. References. Index.