Planning for Coral Reef Conservation

June 27, 2018

Photo Credit: ©Emily Darling/WCS

A group of leading coral reef scientists, including Dr. Emily Darling from WCS, have developed an approach to identify coral reefs with the best opportunity to survive climate change.

In an article released today in Conservation Letters, the researchers say that through this approach they've located a set of coral reefs that appear to be less vulnerable to climate change and well-positioned to help regenerate surrounding coral.

The last three years of back-to-back coral bleaching have taken a heavy toll on the world's coral reefs. Experts are concerned about the rising trend in ocean temperatures and what it means for coral reef ecosystems, especially given their importance to marine biodiversity and human well-being. This plan helps prioritize reefs to safeguard into the future, while society tackles rising carbon emissions.

“Though we know what needs to be done to secure a future for reefs at the local level: protect habitat, end destructive fisheries, and improve water quality, the global impact from climate change continues to decimate the planet’s reefs on an unprecedented scale," said WCS President and CEO Cristian Samper. "These findings present evidence for optimism for people and reefs. While the global climate stress is immense, it is not the same for all reefs, there exist a portfolio of reefs with background conditions that provide a far greater likelihood of survival through both short and longer term climate shocks. Having worked in coral reef conservation science and conservation for nearly a century, WCS is enthusiastic to incorporate these findings into our global conservation strategy.”

Added WCS Vice President for Global Conservation, Dr. Caleb McClennen: "Given the dismal future recent research suggests coral reefs face due to global climate change, this study provides hope for a network of reefs that, if managed well, can survive. This science further demonstrates the importance of a diversified portfolio of locally appropriate actions to maximize conservation return for people and coral reefs."

"The science is clear that conservation can buy time for some coral reefs to survive climate change," said Darling. "The next step is translating this into meaningful outcomes, and continuing to push for global action on carbon emissions."

All told, WCS helps protect 90% of the world's coral species. Across the Caribbean, Western Indian Ocean, and Indo-Pacific, our scientists conduct scientific monitoring at over 900 sites. And we're using open source technology to manage and make best use of that data faster.

As part of the 50 Reefs Initiative led by Bloomberg Philanthropies, WCS also helps to devise a conservation strategy to mitigate local threats to these reefs—supporting sustainable fisheries, marine protected areas, and water quality improvements.

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