Researchers discover how to ‘save’ coral reefs

HONOLULU — Scientists learned how to “save” coral reef communities in the Indo-Pacific as part of what’s been deemed the largest study of its kind ever conducted.

University of Hawaii at Manoa researchers Erik Franklin, Camilo Mora and Ku‘ulei Rodgers, were included in the team of scientists who took part in the study, according to a press release from UH.

The study, which was published in Nature, Ecology and Evolution, outlined three “viable” strategies (protect, recover and transform) that can be “quickly” implemented to help recuperate coral reels that are facing climate change and human impact threats.

More than 2,500 reefs across 44 countries in the Indian and Pacific oceans were studied and findings revealed that the majority had “functioning coral communities with a living cover of architecturally complex species that give reefs their distinctive structure,” the press release stated.

“The study provides a roadmap for reef managers to identify areas that can benefit from active management practices at a local scale while also preparing for potential future impacts from increasing climate hazards,” said Franklin, co-author of the study.

Overfishing, carbon emission and unsustainable development have all led to what looks like a “bleak future” for tropical reefs. Though the “severe heat stress” of the 2014 to 2017 El Nino event exacerbated the issue, researchers found about 450 reefs in 22 countries across the Indo-Pacific survived in climate “cool spots.”

These areas “should be prioritized for urgent protection and management,” the press release stated.

“The good news is that functioning coral reefs still exist, and our study shows that it is not too late to save them,” said Wildlife Conservation Society Conservation Scientist Dr. Emily Darling, lead author of the study and leader of WCS’s global coral reef monitoring program. “Safeguarding coral reefs into the future means protecting the world’s last functioning reefs and recovering reefs impacted by climate change. But realistically – on severely degraded reefs – coastal societies will need to find new livelihoods for the future.”

Among other findings from the study was the identification of the minimum requirements necessary to save functioning reefs. It also stressed that “strategic local management” plays a key role in helping protect coral reefs, including implementing marine protected areas and other management restrictions.

“However, the authors noted that local management can complement but not replace the need for worldwide efforts to limit carbon emissions,” the press release said.


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