A team led by Richard Aronson of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama took cores through reef frameworks in Belize to reconstruct the history of the reefs over the past several thousand years. Although some scientists have suggested that reefs began their decline centuries ago due to early overfishing, Aronson's team found that coral populations were healthy and vibrant until the 1980s, when they were killed by disease and high sea temperatures. The research effort was supported by the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation.
As Aronson points out, "Protecting fish populations is important in its own right, but it won't save the corals. Corals are being killed at an unprecedented rate by forces outside local control. Saving coral reefs means addressing global environmental issues--climate change in particular--at the highest levels of government."