WORLD: 2008 - International Coral Reef Initiative
Cl i m at e Ch a n g e, Co r a l Reefs a n d t h e In t e r nat i o na l Co r a l Reef Sy m p o s i u m Serious global climate change threats to coral reefs were confirmed by 3500 of the world’s leading coral reef scientists and managers in Florida in July, 2008. The news from these scientists was far from encouraging. The major consequences of increasing greenhouse gases will be: • more coral bleaching from warmer oceans, • rising ocean acidification from more dissolved carbon dioxide (CO 2 ), • more severe storms, and • rising sea levels that will drown some coral reef nations. Climate change is proceeding faster than in previous ice-age transitions and coral reefs and corals are falling behind and suffering fever-high temperatures and rising acidity. There are some hopeful signs, but no single, easy remedy. NOAA satellites reveal tropical oceans have warmed at a significantly faster rate during the last 10 years, suggesting that there are only 8-10 years left to turn the tide because CO 2 concentrations in seawater above 450ppm threaten the existence of coral reefs as we know them. Already 33% of the world’s coral species are at high risk of extinction following widespread losses since the 1970s. Healthy and resilient coral reefs can respond vigorously to damage; but climate change stresses are eroding that resilience. For example, ocean acidification will prevent juvenile corals settling and make adults more fragile. Genetic studies are now showing how reefs and their organisms are connected. Genes have been isolated within new symbionts that make some corals more resistant to temperature extremes and coral bleaching, by allowing corals to grow at higher temperatures, or by producing antioxidants to soak up toxic oxygen products. This will assist managers to design networks of MPAs incorporating such resilient species. Genes also code for signals to tell other corals when they are ready to spawn, ensuring synchronised activity. The role of microbes is becoming clearer and more important in nutrient cycles, in responding to climate change, in disease; but many coral reef organisms now show increased immunity to diseases. Problems for reef managers are increasing as 50% the world’s population will live along coasts by 2015, putting unsustainable pressures on coastal resources. The reefs they manage will contain less attractive, but tougher corals. Rising food and fuel prices are resulting in over-fishing and serial depletion of fish stocks in many poor countries. ‘Healthy Reefs for Healthy People’ is a useful theme to link national economics, tourism, livelihoods, food security, cultural and spiritual well being into reef management, especially via multiple-use Marine Protected Areas linked into networks and managed by all stakeholders (more information is on http://www.nova.edu/ncri/11icrs/). Contacts for Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network –w w w.gcrmn.org Clive Wilkinson, Coordinator Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Townsville, Australia email@example.com Gregor Hodgson, Director, Reef Check Foundation Pacific Palisades, California firstname.lastname@example.org: www.ReefCheck.org Christy Loper, Coordinator Global Socioeconomic Monitoring Initiative, NOAA USA email@example.com www.reefbase.org/socmon “we have to get coral reefs off acid” quote from 11th International Coral Reef Symposium Jamie Oliver, Senior Scientist, ReefBase, The WorldFish Center Penang, Malaysia J.Oliver@cgiar.org www.reefbase.org Coral reefs of the world have effectively marked time since the last report in 2004. Some areas have recovered well after the climate change bleaching in 1998 and human damage; while the Indian Ocean tsunami, more bleaching, and human pressures have slowed or reversed recovery. IUCN Wo r l d Co n s e rvat i o n Co n g r e s s, Ba r c e l o n a October 2008 Stat u s o f Co r a l Reefs o f t h e Wo r l d: 2008 edited by Clive Wilkinson Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2008 will be released in December to conclude the International Year of the Reef (IYOR 2008). Here the GCRMN reports initial findings as coral reef scientists, managers and volunteers finalise the latest information from more than 75 countries and states around the world. Already some positive and negative trends are emerging: • Coral reef recovery has generally been strong in the Indian Ocean and western Pacific after the bleaching devastation of 1998. However, recovery is stalled or weak where there are strong human pressures (over-fishing, pollution, sedimentation and unwise development). • Three regions have launched strong initiatives to conserve coral reef resources. The Coral Triangle Initiative, the Micronesia Challenge and the Caribbean Challenge have initiated major conservation activities and will declare large networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). • Two enormous Pacific MPAs were declared; the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (Hawaii), and the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (Kiribati) have increased the area of protected ocean by 541,593 km 2 . • Many coral reefs around New Caledonia were added to the World’s Heritage list in 2008. • 3500 coral reef scientists and managers concluded that climate change and human damage pose serious threats to coral reefs. Effective coral reef conservation and management must be supported by sound reef science. • The massive tsunami of December 2004 damaged some coral reefs around the Indian Ocean. (Note, damage was much greater to human populations and infrastructure on land). • Coral reefs sustained major damage (some countries report up to 50% death of live corals) in the wider Caribbean during the exceptionally hot summer of 2005. Losses were compounded by a record number of hurricanes and subsequent coral diseases. • Some localised outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish are occurring in the Indo-Pacific. • Coral reefs continue to degrade near large concentrations of people, with fish stocks collapsing, pollution killing many reef organisms, and invasive species attacking some reefs. • A second massive coral bleaching in 2005 has put global climate change firmly on the agenda, with greater threats to reefs from more bleaching events and more ocean acidification. • More than 300 communities will include socioeconomic data in the Status 2008 report These suggest alarming consequences for approximately 500 million people who depend on coral reefs for food, coastal protection, building materials and income from tourism.