The future of coral reefs and the human communities that depend on them

Leading Australian scientists today released the following call for action to save the world’s coral reefs, at a scientific symposium in Brisbane:

  • Coral reefs are irreplaceable and far too valuable for human societies to allow their continued destruction. It is a moral imperative that coral reefs are not simply abandoned as an overly fragile casualty of the world’s appetite for coal and oil. Reefs are threatened, not doomed – if we can take steps to avoid extreme climate change. We know what to do to maintain healthy reefs, and we should get on with it.
  • Because of their sensitivity to temperature and acidification of oceans, coral reefs are in the front line of the effects of climate change. For reefs, climate change is not some distant threat that might come to pass in the future – scientists and reef managers have already clearly documented the impacts of accelerating climate change on the Great Barrier Reef and elsewhere around the world. The evidence is irrefutable.
  • Without targeted reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the ongoing damage to coral reefs from global warming will soon be irreversible. Substantial global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions must be initiated immediately, not in 10 or 20 years.
  • Substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are consistently with steadily improving living standards in both developed and developing countries. The best estimate of the change in the rate of economic growth associated with a program to hold the change in global temperature below 2 degrees C over the next century is less than 0.1 percentage points.
  • The coral reef crisis represents a policy and governance failure. Improved outcomes for reefs will require unprecedented coordination and integration across jurisdictions. People from developing countries who are highly dependent on reefs for their livelihood are the most vulnerable to change. Australia’s support for the Coral Triangle Initiative and for Pacific Nations, represents a sound approach that combines conservation objectives with sustainable development. These efforts need to be much better supported by all governments.
  • In many places, we need to move beyond the usual measures to involve communities in conservation- things like consultation, participation, and compensation. We need to understand the social, cultural, political and economic conditions the same way we understand ecological conditions such as the types of corals and fish in a park.  In some areas, the capacity of communities to cope with change will have to be built up, which will require donors and governments to make real and meaningful investments  in poverty alleviation, education, and reducing dependence on coral reef resources.
  • Development aid, particularly for education, capacity-building and alternative livelihoods will increase the capacity coral-reef nations to adapt to climate change. The higher the level of education and the broader the range of economic prospects available to people, the greater the appeal of long-term management for sustainability, as opposed to extraction of resources to meet immediate demands for survival.
  • The world has a narrow window of opportunity to save coral reefs from the destruction of extreme climate change. Local action can help to re-build the resilience of reefs, and promote their recovery from coral bleaching. It is critically important to prevent the replacement of corals by algal blooms, by reducing runoff from land and by protecting stocks of herbivorous fishes. However, reefs cannot be “climate-proofed” except via reduced emissions of greenhouse gasses.

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