Coral reefs in the Caribbean were once thought of as one of the most rich and abundant in the world.

But a recently report by an international conservation organization is painting a grim picture of their current state.

An abundance of big fish surrounded by brightly colored coral have given way to dull-colored coral reefs where fishes are difficult to find, a sign of a troubled ecosystem whose signs of life keep getting bleaker.

There is an urgent need to immediately and drastically reduce all human impacts if coral reefs and the vitally important fisheries that depend on them are to survive in the decades to come.

- Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme

The International Union for Conservation of Nature says the Caribbean's reefs are in sharp decline, with live coral coverage down to an average of just 8 percent. That's down from 50 percent in the 1970s. The non-governmental organization released a report Friday at an international environmental conference in Korea.

There are many factors contributing to this steady decline.

The causes include overfishing, pollution, disease and bleaching caused by rising global temperatures. The group says the situation is somewhat better in some places, including the Dutch islands of the southern Caribbean and the British territory of the Cayman Islands, with up to 30 percent cover in places.

The union concludes that "time is running out" and new safeguards are urgently needed.

“Looking forward, there is an urgent need to immediately and drastically reduce all human impacts if coral reefs and the vitally important fisheries that depend on them are to survive in the decades to come,” Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme, said in a press release.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press. 

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