A manifesto to save the world’s coral gardens (commentary)

  • Coral reefs cover less than 3% of the ocean but contain a quarter of all marine life. After tropical rainforests, they are the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth.
  • Fifty of the world’s top scientists recently set out a roadmap to save the world’s coral reefs.
  • With urgent climate action and following this roadmap, these oases of beauty can conserve essential marine biodiversity and provide a lifeline for coastal communities into the next century and beyond, according to a new editorial.
  • This post is a comment. The opinions expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of Mongabay.

If you’ve been following major news stories about climate change in recent years, you might think that coral reefs are disappearing. Global warming is causing more frequent bleaching events, making it increasingly difficult for reefs around the world to recover between warm water inflows. Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef has been particularly affected and some predictions indicate that coral reefs will be gone by the end of the century.

Coral reefs cover less than 3% of the ocean but contain a quarter of all marine life. After tropical rainforests, they are the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth. Without reefs, the more than one billion people around the world who depend on coral reefs for food, fish and livelihoods would be devastated. The world simply cannot afford coral reefs to disappear. We urgently need an ambitious plan to reverse the trend of losses.

We now have one. This year, more than 50 world-renowned scientists from more than 30 government, non-profit and academic institutions launched a series of six white papers: An Investment Plan to Save the World’s Coral Reefs – and with them the food, livelihoods and coastal resources. protection they provide.

Coral reef research in Fiji. Image courtesy of Emily Darling/WCS.

Researchers first identified where coral reefs can survive climate change. A portfolio of over 50 climate-resilient coral reefs has been identified worldwide where unique depths or cooler ocean currents have shielded reefs from the worst impacts of climate change. These coral reef sanctuaries, if well conserved and managed, have the best chance of survival in a changing world.

Now that we have found them, we must focus international efforts and investments on safeguarding these resilient biodiversity hotspots. The six white papers, on governance, small-scale fisheries and nutrition, finance, health and water quality, science and climate policy, give essential recommendations on what to do next.

To reduce stress on ecosystems, not just the corals themselves, the intensity of various threats must be reduced so that they have a better chance of surviving the impacts of climate change. For example, forestry management in nearby watersheds is important to reduce runoff of sediments and pollutants that damage both reefs and local communities.

Fisheries must also be carefully managed so that they can sustain local reef-dependent populations, but without unbalancing the sensitive systems on which the fisheries rely. There must be sustainable funding pipelines to fund effective management, decisions must be based on the best available science, and climate policy must support coral reefs.

It is extremely important to center people in everything we do.

Conservation efforts must translate into benefits for people so that they support those efforts and ultimately become stewards of nature and the resources and services it provides. We must take a human rights-based approach to conservation, reconstruction and strengthening of local institutions to empower indigenous peoples, local communities and rights holders.

See related: New DNA test helps tackle illegal trade in red coral

coral reef in indonesia
Coral reef in Indonesia. Photo by Beth Watson/Ocean Image Bank.

When people have a voice at the table and are invited to co-create management, changes can be more sustainable and equitable. Conversations about coral reef foods, for example, will naturally come to find a better balance between fisheries sustainability and local nutrition and development needs.

We are currently in a unique window of opportunity. At this year’s international political summits, we have a unique opportunity to declare coral reefs a top priority by adopting global goals for their conservation. Once these goals are adopted and the new “30×30” global deal is reached, we will need a new approach to fund international conservation and data-driven action on a massive and unprecedented scale. We also need this funding to last not just for a year or two, but in perpetuity.

The 30×30 initiative is a commitment of more than 100 countries at the next meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to be held in Montreal in December. These countries, and hopefully many more, commit to protecting at least 30% of their lands and seas by 2030. What constitutes protection is hotly debated right now . Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) believes that gaining the support of local communities is essential and therefore a range of designations are needed, such as Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measures (OECMs), not just Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). ) more strictly protected.

On top of all this, we must advance action to reduce the main threat to every ecosystem and every species on Earth: climate change. Coral reefs need the planet to warm below 1.5°C to stay alive.

Barrier Reef in Raja Ampat, Indonesia.  Photo by Beth Watson/Ocean Image Bank.
Barrier Reef in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. Photo by Beth Watson/Ocean Image Bank.

This plan provided by the white papers proves that there is a future for coral reefs in our warming world. This will require careful planning, empowerment and support of indigenous peoples and local communities, strategic science, sustained attention to impact measurement, long-term financial resources and a global conservation strategy, but it will can be done.

With urgent climate action and following this roadmap, these oases of beauty can conserve essential marine biodiversity and provide a lifeline for coastal communities into the next century and beyond.

Simon Cripps is executive director of marine conservation at WCS. Emily Darling is WCS Director of Coral Reef Conservation.

Related reading:

Scientists are developing an AI that can listen to the pulse of a reef being restored

Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change And Coral Reefs, Commentary, Conservation, Coral Bleaching, Coral Reefs, Green, Marine Biodiversity, Marine Conservation, Marine Ecosystems, Marine Protected Areas, Oceans, Research

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