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Coral Reef Alliance Position Statement on the IPCC Report | Coral Reef Alliance
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CORAL Position Statement- International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Releases Special Report on the Impacts of Global Warming of 1.5° C

Coral Reef Alliance Position Statement on the IPCC Report | Coral Reef Alliance

Background:

On October 8th, the IPCC issued its special report on the impacts of global climate change on nature and society. Specifically, the IPCC examined the results of warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in the context of the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty. The report can be found at http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/.

The report paints a grim picture of the consequences of climate change if the earth’s temperature rises by even 0.5°C and further states that rising temperatures will result in food shortages, more wildfires, and—of particular interest to us at the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL)—a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040.

Additionally, the report points out that the effects of climate change will not be disbursed uniformly across the globe. Rising temperatures will have a disproportionate impact on the poor as well as developing and island nations. CORAL works closely with many such communities around the world to implement solutions that are win-wins for both reefs and people.

Many media outlets have covered the release of this report, and many have focused on the predictions of devastating effects to coral reefs. Some of the reports have shared inaccurate data about the current state of coral reefs and very few media outlets have publicized the work being done by CORAL and countless other conservation organizations around the world to save coral reefs.

Statement from Madhavi Colton, Ph.D., Program Director of the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL):

The IPCC’s special report is an urgent wake-up call for action. To save coral reefs, we must act on two fronts: we must swiftly and drastically lower greenhouse emissions while simultaneously effectively reducing local stresses to reefs, such as from land-based sources of pollution and overfishing. Without effective action on both fronts in the next 20 years, we could be facing a world without functional coral reefs. CORAL has developed innovative, scientific solutions to meet this challenge.

The effects of losing an entire ecosystem would be devastating. A quarter of all marine life depends on coral reefs, and over 500 million people around the world rely on coral reefs for food security, economic well-being, and cultural identity. Goods and services—like tourism and fishing—derived from coral reefs have an estimated value of US$375 billion a year. Coral reefs are also critical for protecting coastal communities from wave action, erosion, and tropical storms. The world needs coral reefs, and decisive action will help ensure that we do not face a future without them.

Many coral reefs around the globe are in a state of decline. Some recent reports in the media have stated that we have lost 50 percent of the world’s reefs already. The truth is more complicated. The combination of rising ocean temperatures and local reef threats has resulted in the loss of 50 percent of reef-building corals (as opposed to coral reefs) over the past 30 years and placed an estimated one-third of reef-building corals at risk of extinction.

The good news is that there is hope for corals and coral reefs. A growing body of scientific research shows that corals and their algal symbionts can adapt to warming oceans, but little is known about whether corals can adapt fast enough to keep up with the pace of climate change. Without this crucial information, pessimism can prevail, undermining motivation to implement effective conservation actions and governmental policies.

CORAL is developing a new, scalable solution to meet the crisis facing our reefs, as described in the IPCC report, that will fill this knowledge gap. In partnership with world-class researchers, we are spearheading a multidisciplinary research project that is improving our understanding of how corals evolve in response to rising temperatures. We are using this scientific information to develop regional-scale conservation plans that we are implementing in collaboration with local communities in FijiHondurasIndonesia and Hawai‘i.

Our scientific research shows that the best way to give corals a fighting chance is by facilitating the natural process of evolutionary rescue. Evolutionary rescue happens when a population in decline is able to survive because individuals that are naturally better suited to deal with new conditions breed to regrow the population. In essence, evolution rescues the population before it goes extinct.

We have used our scientific research to define the attributes of networks that increase the probability of evolutionary rescue. We call these networks “Adaptive Reefscapes”. An Adaptive Reefscape is a network of healthy reefs that is diverse, connected, and large.  To learn more about Adaptive Reefscapes go to: https://coral.org/adapt/.

A key element of Adaptive Reefscapes is that they are based on portfolio theory—the idea that investing in a diverse range of options for the future increases the chances for success. This contrasts with other approaches that use inherently uncertain forecasts to focus conservation efforts on particular geographic locations and/or species. Such strategies are intrinsically risky. Adaptive Reefscapes also contrasts with approaches that are over-reliant on technology which, given the short window of time and resource constraints, are unlikely to achieve meaningful results for reefs at a global scale.

Given the rapid pace of climate change and its drastic effects, we can no longer rely on standard approaches to conservation that assume we know what the future will bring or that strive to return systems to the way they once were. We need innovative solutions that instead embrace the idea of change and harness evolutionary power. To address the crisis we face, we need a solution that can scale globally in a relatively short period and with limited resources. At CORAL, we have that solution.

Find out how you can get involved and learn more at www.coral.org.

[caption id="attachment_1008" align="alignnone" width="1000"]A yellow clownfish (Amphiprion sandaracinos) peeks out from within a Mertens carpet sea anenome (Stichodactyla mertensii) in Indonesia. Photo by: Jeff Yonover[/caption]

About Dr. Madhavi Colton:

As CORAL’s Program Director, Dr. Madhavi Colton oversees an international portfolio of community-driven conservation programs that are addressing local threats to reefs, including over-fishing, poor water quality, sedimentation, and habitat destruction. Madhavi is also spearheading new scientific research into how ecosystems adapt to the effects of anthropogenic climate change and is applying this knowledge to develop innovative approaches to coral conservation around the world. Her expertise lies in building partnerships between academic researchers, conservation organizations, governments and local communities to implement durable solutions to conservation. She has worked in California, Hawai‘i, the Mesoamerican region, Indonesia, Fiji and Australia. Dr. Colton has a Ph.D. in Marine Ecology from the University of Melbourne, Australia.

About the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL)

Headquartered in Oakland, California with field offices in Hawai‘i, Fiji, Indonesia and Honduras, CORAL unites communities to save coral reefs. Working with local people, communities, and partners—from fishermen and government leaders to divers to scientists—CORAL protects one of our most valuable and threatened ecosystems. International teams design long-term and lasting conservation programs that reduce local threats to coral reefs and are replicated across the globe. For more information about CORAL or to donate to protect coral reefs, visit www.coral.org.

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Working with people around the world—from fishermen to government leaders, divers to scientists, Californians to Fijians—the Coral Reef Alliance protects our most valuable and threatened ecosystem. We lead holistic conservation programs that improve coral reef health and resilience and are replicated across the globe.


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Approaches to Coral Reef Conservation
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Approaches to Coral Reef Conservation

Coral reef conservation and restoration

Coral reefs are marine ecosystems located in shallow coastal zones of tropical and subtropical regions. The ecosystem is shaped by the calcium carbonate structures secreted by the coral polyps (ref). Coral reefs occupy a small percentage of the world’s oceans, but they contain a disproportionately high share of its biodiversity (ref).

Over the past few years, there’s been a steady increase and interest in a number of coral conservation activities that fall into the broad category of restoration. These include coral gardening, breeding corals in tanks and transplanting them onto reefs and growing corals on artificial reef structures in the water. At the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), we frequently get asked questions about restoration activities, so we thought we’d take a moment to explain some of the more common techniques, their potential benefits and disadvantages, and how CORAL is approaching restoration.

One of the most common approaches to restoration is to place artificial reef structures on the ocean floor on which corals can grow. In some cases—for example, when natural reefs have been bombed for fish or mined for building materials—this approach may be an essential tool for rebuilding reefs. This is the case in several locations in North Bali, Indonesia, where many of the natural reefs are severely degraded. In response, communities are installing a variety of rebar and concrete structures on the seafloor to provide a place for baby corals to settle and grow.

Unfortunately, deployment of these materials is haphazard, and sometimes, when they aren’t properly affixed to the seafloor, these structures become dislodged in storms and turn into wrecking balls, damaging natural reefs. At the request of these communities, CORAL is launching a new project that involves in-water testing of three common restoration materials. Our goals are to identify which approaches are best for rebuilding reefs and use this information to improve coral restoration techniques in North Bali and beyond.

Another popular restoration technique is to grow corals in aquaria and out-plant them onto natural or artificial reefs. However, there remain a lot of questions about whether this and similar approaches are scalable due to their high implementation costs. If the goal of restoration is to repopulate degraded reefs, it’s likely that lots and lots and lots of corals will need to be out-planted to have a positive impact on the natural ecosystem. For example, we estimate that there are billions individual coral colonies in the Mesoamerican Reef, which spans over 600 miles of coastline from Mexico to Honduras. How many corals would need to be grown and out-planted to impact this ecosystem? Ten thousand or ten million?

To answer this and similar questions, we launched a partnership with The Nature Conservancy’s Caribbean program this past summer. Using a mathematical model that we have developed with partners at the University of Washington and Rutgers University, we will estimate how many corals, planted with what frequency and in what locations relative to predominant ocean currents, are going to be required to positively impact coral reefs. We will use results from this model to develop “rules of thumb” for restoration practices that will help the conservation community evaluate the return on investment for restoration activities.

A third approach to restoration is to select or genetically engineer corals that have particular traits—such as the ability to thrive in hot water—breed these corals in lab aquaria and out-plant them onto reefs. While this may seem like a good idea (the world is getting warmer, after all!), there is a very real risk that these approaches could compromise a reef’s genetic diversity. The inherent genetic diversity in coral reef ecosystems means that some individual corals thrive in warmer water and some do better in cooler water. Even as the average global temperature gets warmer, there will be variability about that average. If we saturate a reef with only corals that thrive in hot water, what happens if our predictions for a particular site are wrong and it cools? Or what happens if the engineered corals are particularly susceptible to a disease that strikes the reef? Basically, by engineering a solution and artificially selecting corals for unknown future conditions, we are putting all our eggs in one basket with potentially disastrous consequences.

In the end, for these and other restoration techniques to be successful, they must also include effective conservation and management to the address the local stressors that led to reef decline in the first place. Without improving water quality, reducing over-fishing and stopping destructive practices, no reefs—natural or artificial, grown in an aquarium or in the ocean—have much chance of surviving. In this way, restoration can be thought of as one tool in a tool belt; let’s just remember you can’t build a house with only a hammer.

That’s why at CORAL, we take a holistic approach to conservation that combines community-driven conservation with cutting edge science. We work with communities to reduce local threats to reefs and improve livelihoods, creating win-wins for reefs and people. We choose locations for our efforts that are connected to each other by the movement of baby corals. The resulting networks are places where corals can adapt to climate change through natural processes. We call these networks Adaptive Reefscapes. Simultaneously, we are advancing conservation science by testing and refining approaches to saving coral reefs. Our work on restoration is aimed at improving our understanding of how restoration activities can be most effective; by sharing this information, we can improve restoration globally.


FRONTIER: Conservation -- Education -- Exploration For the ultimate gap year and volunteering abroad experience. Explore remote and spectacular landscapes, work with deprived and deserving communities, or campaign for wildlife care and conservation on a travel adventure youll never forget!

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The Success Story of Namena Marine Reserve’s Dive Tags
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The Namena Marine Reserve (Namena) in Fiji is renowned as of the world’s most incredible scuba diving locations, attracting divers from around the world with its unparalleled coral reef and marine life. When snorkelers or divers visit Namena, they proudly wear a round “poker chip” style tag on their gear, which they later take home with them as a treasured token of their time in Fiji. What many people don’t realize, however, is that this dive tag is much more than just a souvenir – it represents a great success story for community-based conservation.
Namena is Fiji’s largest “no-take” Marine Protected Area (MPA) and forms part of the traditionally-owned fishing grounds (iqoliqoli) of the Kubulau community. The dive tag program was born over 15 years ago when the Kubulau community approached CORAL for assistance in developing a sustainable management system that would protect Namena’s fisheries from overexploitation, while providing tangible benefits to the community.

Photo by Dory Gannes
In 2003, CORAL helped the community launch a dive tag program, modeled off of a system used in Bonaire Marine Park in the Caribbean. The program uses fees from the purchase of dive tags to fund MPA management and community development, thereby increasing community “buy-in” for conservation and alleviating fishing pressure.
CORAL assisted in funding and implementing the first Namena dive tag in 2003. Ever since then, Namena has been holding an annual Dive Tag Photo Competition in which individuals from around the world are invited to submit underwater photos from Namena. The winner of the competition has the unique privilege of having their photo featured on the Namena Dive Tags for the year. This summer, in the fifteenth year of the Photo Competition, photographer Lars Wahlquist won over the judges with his stunning photo of a Cuthona nudibranch.

2019_NAMENA_DIVETAGS_Lars Wahlquist
Today, both coral reefs and the Kubulau community reap the benefits of the voluntary dive tag program, in what is clearly a win-win for both communities and conservation. More than 1000 tags are purchased annually by visitors and Marine Recreation Providers at the price of FJ$30. The funds collected from the sale of the dive tags are used to conduct maintenance on moorings within the reserve, fund patrols for enforcement, and sustain a scholarship fund for students from Kubulau, which has already benefitted well over 200 students.
Namena is now one of the most successful MPAs in Fiji, and its dive tag user fee system is upheld as a model for other community-managed MPAs throughout Fiji and the world. If you ever have the luck of diving in Namena, you can be proud that your dive tag purchase is making a meaningful contribution towards protecting coral reefs and supporting Fijian communities!
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