A world with corals: What will it take?

Heidi Schuttenberg (co-author of A Reef manager’s Guide to Coral Bleaching) and I recently published a letter in Science entitled “A world with corals: What will it take?” (link to .pdf). We wrote this article in response to a “doomsday” newsfocus by Richard Stone (A world without corals – link to pdf), captioned “Besieged by pathogens, predators, and people, the ‘rainforests of the sea’ may soon face their ultimate foe: rising ocean acidity driven by CO2emissions”

Too often people opt for the “game over” or doomsday strategy when referring to climate change and coral reefs. My sentiments echo those of Heidi: “The future of reefs depends very much on what we do now: what we do to limit climate change & what we do to minimize local stressors to reefs. The resolutions passed at ITMEMS and ICRI build on innovative work in the science and management communities to articulate a meaningful agenda for building reef resilience to climate change. Courageous action to implement these recommendations is needed and justified.”

What are your thoughts on the topic? Please feel free to discuss this article or comment here.

If the article “A world without corals?” (NewsFocus, R.Stone, 4 May p.678) left you reaching for a stiff drink, you are not alone. The measures required to limit climate change can seem an eternity away to coastal communities left to deal with the consequences. Yet, since the 1997–98 mass bleaching—an unforgiving global event that destroyed 16% of the world’s coral reefs—practitioners and scientists have worked to identify meaningful actions that can promote reef survival in the face of climate change.We believe it is more useful to ask, “What would it take to have a world with corals?” In this respect, the community responsible for the sustainable management of reefs has recently produced a series of consensus viewpoints (1–3). The emerging agenda stresses the need for a twopronged approach: (i) global actions to reduce climate change and (ii) local actions to support ecosystem resilience.The challenge of achieving international action on climate should not overshadow the significance of local interventions. Growing evidence suggests that local management will assist coral reefs through the period where we, as a global society, struggle to stabilize Earth’s atmosphere. Strategies as broad as retaining herbivores (4), protecting naturally resilient areas (e.g., the sidebar “Palau combats coral bleaching,” C. Pala, 4 May, p. 680), and maintaining conditions for coral recruitment (5) appear to be effective for shoring up the resilience of reefs in preparation for the next 100 years of stress.Although the current greenhouse trajectory is disastrous for coral reefs and the millions of people who depend on them for survival, we should not be lulled into accepting a world without corals. Only by imagining a world with corals will we build the resolve to solve the challenges ahead. We must avoid the “game over” syndrome and marshall the financial, political, and technical resources to stabilize the climate and implement effective reef management with unprecedented urgency.Hiedi Schuttenberg (1,2) and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg (2,3)

1 School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD 4811, Australia.

2 World Bank Coral Reef Targeted Research Program (www.gefcoral.org).

3 Centre for Marine Studies, The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia.


1. “Coral Reefs and Climate Change, AStatement from the Third International Tropical Marine Ecosystem Management
Symposium,” available at www.itmems.org/Coral_Reefs_Climate_Change.pdf.
2. ICRI resolution on coral reefs and climate change, available at www.icriforum.org/library/Reso_CC_Tokyo_0407.pdf.
3. H. Schuttenberg et al., “Building resilience into coral reef management: Key findings and recommendations,” summary prepared for the conference proceedings of the International Tropical Marine Ecosystem Management Symposium 2006,
Cozumel, Mexico; see Supporting Online Material at www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/318/5847/42b/DC1.
4. T. P. Hugheset al., Curr. Biol.17, 360 (2007).
5. T. McClanahan, N. Polunin, T. Done, Conserv. Ecol.6, 18 (Dec. 2002); available at www.consecol.org/vol6/iss2/art18.

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