A changing global climate may have profound effects on the Florida Keys coral reef, an Australian researcher says, but at least people are paying attention.
“People are concerned about tourism and the reef, of course,” economist Hans Hoegh-Guldberg said after his first Keys workshop Friday in Islamorada.
“But one positive thing about the environment is that people here see is an increasing environmental consciousness on both the corporate and personal level,” Hoegh-Guldberg said. “People are taking more and more notice.”
Hoegh-Guldberg will spend this week in the Keys to conduct four more workshops with residents as part of a scenario-planning process commissioned by the National Marine Sanctuaries Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“That means developing a set of alternative possible future worlds from ‘best case’ to ‘worst case,’ all equally credible and equally likely to occur,” said Hoegh-Guldberg. “We must plan to avert the worst and encourage the best.”
His son, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, is one of Australia’s most renowned coral researchers. Together, they prepared a similar report on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef that was well received at the 2004 International Coral Reef Conference.
The 350-page Australia report outlines possible effects of climate change on the reef and how various future scenarios may alter businesses and communities that depend on the reef.
The two-year process for a Keys report began in November.
“In building these scenarios, it is essential to extend the perspective all the way from a global view … right through to the local scene,” Hoegh-Guldberg said.
He plans to meet with local officials, reef experts and an array of residents at sessions in Marathon, Key Largo, Key West and the Lower Keys.
“We had a good group of various people” at the Islamorada workshop, he said. “They sort of bounced things off each other. It was positive and very useful.
“There also was concern about the reef. If the reef deteriorates further, obviously there will be consequences.”
Science, socioeconomics and tourism surveys all play a role in the scenario planning. One metric is the “impsat,” or importance-satisfaction rating. It weighs a respondent’s opinion on an issue’s importance and whether he or she is satisfied with the existing situation.
“We are seeking the real issues affecting the long-term future of the Florida Keys,” Hoegh-Guldberg said.
That includes possible scenarios if half the reef’s coral cover disappears, or the coral dies off completely.
He defines the study’s goal as “to create a firm scientific, environmental and socioeconomic base for assessment of long-term futures 10, 20, 50 and more years ahead.”
One factor he readily acknowledges: “It’s an unpredictable world.”