Last week I attended the International Coral Reef Symposium – a massive gathering of coral reef enthusiasts from all over the world, with more than 2,500 scientists, managers, organizers, and journalists present.
One important message that ran through the entire conference was that coral reefs are in a really tough spot at the moment. Whether it be from climate change, destructive fishing techniques, or poor management, there are a myriad of threats currently facing these species.
I attended the climate change and ocean acidification talks, and something that really stood out for me was the recurring message that removing other threats will help corals survive the coming onslaught brought on by climate change. While the most obvious and the only long-term way of saving corals -- and all other species -- from climate change is to stop our carbon emissions, local efforts to remove threats can help corals withstand the current and future pressures of global warming.
Two examples of these local efforts stood out. The first came from the Great Barrier Reef, and it showed that improving water quality significantly reduced the susceptibility of corals to bleaching, a process whereby corals expel the symbiotic algae that provide them with food and the bright colors we associate with shallow water reefs, leaving stark, white skeletons. Bleaching events are becoming more common and intense as waters warm, and by improving water quality -- and therefore reducing the likelihood of bleaching -- some corals can survive for another year.
Another example suggested that decreasing overfishing on reefs will increase the number of herbivorous fish present on the reefs. Reefs are in a constant battle to maintain equilibrium. And while reefs grow slowly, the algae that is constantly trying to overtake the reefs grows quickly. Herbivorous fish play an important role in keeping back the algal growth, so reducing overfishing is vital.
These are just a few instances of how taking small, localized steps can help coral reefs withstand climate change. An important thing to remember is that we don’t need to be entirely pessimistic about the future of coral reefs, and climate change is not a lost cause. If we make the right decisions now and work hard to protect corals, I know we can do it!
Learn more at www.oceana.org/climate.