SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- An international conservation organization is painting a grim picture of the Caribbean's iconic coral reefs.
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.
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.
But the union concludes that "time is running out" and new safeguards are urgently needed.
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This April 9, 2012 photo provided by NOAA shows french grunts swimming around sponges and coral off the northeast coast of Puerto Rico, taken as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sea-floor habitat research project aboard NOAA's Nancy Foster ship. In a three-week project that wraps up Saturday April 21, scientists with the NOAA are mapping an area to help officials determine what sort of rules are needed to protect the recently created Northeast Great Reserve, Puerto Rico's first officially designated marine corridor. (AP Photo/NOAA)
FILE - In this undated file photo released by Conservation International, a healthy coral reef is seen off the Caribbean island of Bonaire. 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, in a report released Sept. 7, 2012. That's down from 50 percent in the 1970s. (AP Photo/Andy Bruckner, NOAA Fisheries, File)
This image provided by NOAA shows a close look one of the many interesting images collected by the Little Hercules ROV during the INDEX 2010 Exploration of the Sangihe Talaud Region off Indonesia in July. Scientists using cutting-edge technology to explore waters off Indonesia were wowed by colorful and diverse images of marine life on the ocean floor _ including plate-sized sea spiders and flower-like sponges that appear to be carnivorous. They predicted Thursday Aug. 26, 2010 that as many as 40 new plant and animal species may have been discovered during the three-week expedition that ended Aug. 14. (AP Photo/NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program)
FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2006 file photo provided by Centre of Marine Studies, The University of Queensland, fish swim amongst bleached coral near the Keppel Islands in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Ocean acidification has emerged as one of the biggest threats to coral reefs across the world, acting as the "osteoporosis of the sea" and threatening everything from food security to tourism to livelihoods, the head of a U.S. scientific agency said Monday, July 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Centre for Marine Studies, The University of Queensland, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 26, 2009 file photo, orange colored ringed rice coral, or montipora patula, is seen in waters off Waimanalo, Hawaii. A study by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says Americans value coral reefs around the main Hawaiian Islands at the amount of $33.57 billion. Researchers arrived at the figure by surveying 3,200 Americans across the nation and asking them how much of their income taxes they would want devoted to hypothetical initiatives to improve the health of Hawaii's coral reefs. (AP Photo/Keoki Stender, file)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY PIERRE PRATABUY
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY PIERRE PRATABUY A scientist diver discovers the flora and fauna located on artificial reefs, by 30 meters deep (98.42 ft) on July 8, 2012 off shore of southern city of Marseille. The immersion in 2008 of nearly 30,000m3 (1.059.439 ft3) of artificial reefs in the bay of Marseilles rose to a return of the species. The presence of such some 200 hectars (494 acres) of artificial habitat for flora and fauna, located between the islands of Friuli and the Prado Bay, is 'the largest artificial reef made ??up in Europe,' said Didier Reault, French right wing party Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) City delegate to boating, beaches and national park of the Calanques. A Big Blue in a 'good ecological status' in 2020 ? This is the aim of the Water Agency and of the Interregional Sea Directorates (DIRM), a French Minister of Ecology Department, providing a financing project of 600 million euros (737 millions dollars) over six years including 6 millions (7.37 millions dollars) to raise awareness. AFP PHOTO / BORIS HORVAT (Photo credit should read BORIS HORVAT/AFP/GettyImages)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY INDONESIA-TOURISM-P
TO GO WITH AFP STORY INDONESIA-TOURISM-PAPUA-MINES, FEATURE BY LOIC VENNIN In this photograph taken on October 21, 2011 a diver explores the coral reef in the waters of Raja Ampat's Kri Island located in eastern Indonesia's Papua region. Called the last paradise on earth, Raja Ampat acrhipelago was nominated as World Heritage Site of UNESCO with its largely pristine environment considered as one of the most important marine biodiversity in the world. AFP PHOTO / ROMEO GACAD (Photo credit should read ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Two-year-old Green Sea Turtle "Sea Biscu
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FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Australian Institute of Marine Science shows white coral syndrome in Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Ocean acidification has emerged as one of the biggest threats to coral reefs across the world, acting as the "osteoporosis of the sea" and threatening everything from food security to tourism to livelihoods, the head of a U.S. scientific agency said Monday, July 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Australian Institute of Marine Science, File)
FILE - In this Thursday, April 30, 2009 file photo, fish swim near coral reefs in the waters in the waters of Tatawa Besar, Komodo islands, Indonesia. Coral gardens off the Komodo Islands were just a few months ago teeming with clouds of brightly colored reef fish, octopi with fluorescent banded eyes and black-and-blue striped sea snakes. Today, after being pounded by increasingly brazen blast fisherman, several diving sites within the U.N. World Heritage Site have been transformed into desolate grey moonscapes. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File)
FILE - In this Thursday, April 30, 2009 file photo, coral reefs are seen in the waters of Tatawa Besar, Komodo islands, Indonesia. Coral gardens that were among Asia's most spectacular, teeming with colorful sea life just a few months ago, have been transformed into desolate gray moonscapes by fishermen who use explosives or cyanide to kill or stun their prey.(AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File)
A photo taken by a camera submerged into
A photo taken by a camera submerged into a pond shows small fish seen swimming under thin ice in St. Petersburg park on February 13, 2011. PHOTO/ KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
Environmental Groups Challenge Navy's Use Of Sonar In West Coast Training Exercises
ABOARD THE MANUTEA, CA - JANUARY 30: Bottlenose dolphins swim ahead of the bow of a boat off the southern California coast on January 30, 2012 near Dana Point, California. A coalition that includes Native American tribes, Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council is on the National Marine Fisheries Service for more protection for dolphins, whales, and other migrating marine animals from the use of sonar in training by the US Navy on the West Coast. Environmental groups argue that mid-frequency sonar alters the behavior of sound-sensitive marine life and, in some cases, causes fatal results. Some whales are believed to communicate across hundreds of miles of ocean through sound. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)