This Humble Creature Will Save Our Oceans

But only if we stop overfishing

Far from being just another pretty face, this parrotfish could help Caribbean coral reefs rebound. (Ruth/Flickr)
Photo: Ruth/Flickr parrotfish coral reefs caribbean coral cover algae algal bloom invasive species urchin outside magazine outside online oceans

Coral reefs in the Caribbean are in a bad way, but hope could arrive in a small, colorful package—the parrotfish.

New research suggests that protecting the parrotfish could also help save coral populations, which have declined precipitously over the past four decades. Warming oceans have caused large algae blooms that can deprive reefs of the light they need to survive. That's where the parrotfish come in. The fish eat the algae, keeping it in check before it overruns the reef. Balance to the ecosystem is (theoretically) restored. 

Sounds simple, right? Well, we still have to deal with the invasive pathogens, tourism, overfishing, pollution, and now global warming that plague the Caribbean. Crucially, the new study doesn't deny the situation is bleak. Rather, it outlines steps—including stricter local fishing policies—we can take to limit the damage.  

"Overemphasis on climate change … provides an excuse for managers and governments not to make the hard decisions required to stop overfishing, coastal pollution, and unsustainable development," the authors write in their recommendations for management.

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