China has lost at least 80 percent of its coral reefs in the past 30 years due to development, pollution and overfishing associated with its economic expansion, a new study has found, according to Agence France-Presse.
Researchers from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology outline what they say is a "grim picture of decline, degradation and destruction” in the latest issue of the journal Conservation Biology, AFP reported.
The coral loss in the South China Sea has been hastened by a lack of cooperation between the six countries in the region that have competing claims over the sea’s oil-rich islands, Radio Australia reported.
"On offshore atolls and archipelagos claimed by six countries in the South China Sea, coral cover has declined from an average of greater than 60 percent to around 20 percent within the past 10-15 years," the report said, according to AFP.
"The window of opportunity to recover the reefs of the South China Sea is closing rapidly, given the state of degradation revealed in this study," report co-author Terry Hughes told AFP.
More from GlobalPost: China flexes Air Force muscle amid territorial disputes with Japan, Vietnam