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Sharply declining Caribbean coral reefs alarm conservationists

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FILE photo from 2001 of diseased coral reef off the island of Culebra, Puerto Rico, photo (AP)

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.