in the world, has only 23% live coral cover. The only places I know of where live coral cover still averages ≈50% or more over large areas of reef are the uninhabited and protected atolls of the Central Pacific (Knowlton and Jackson, 2008).
Most Caribbean coral communities in 1977 still resembled the first detailed descriptions from the 1950s (Goreau, 1959), as well as reconstructions of Holocene and Pleistocene assemblages in the fossil record (Jackson, 1992; Pandolfi and Jackson, 2001, 2006; Aronson et al., 2004), although reefs at Barbados had already lost their formerly dense populations of Acropora by the early 20th century (Lewis, 1984, 2002). In contrast, reef fishes throughout the entire region were only a small remnant of how they used to be (Jackson, 1997; Pandolfi et al., 2003; McClenachan et al., 2007), and populations declined by more than one-half again between 1977 and 2003 (Paredes, 2007). We can piece together a clear qualitative picture of what pristine Caribbean reef fish communities were like from archeological and historical analysis (Jackson, 1997; Jackson et al., 2001; Pandolfi et al., 2003). The extraordinary old photographs of fishing boats returning to Key West draped in giant sawfishes and sharks (Fig. 1.3) make these descriptions come alive, as do the trophy photographs of an afternoon’s catch by a single charter boat of up to 16 gigantic goliath grouper, a now endangered species for which catch per unit effort (CPUE) declined 87% between 1956 and 1979 (L. McClenachan, personal communication).