Fate of corals hangs in the balance

04 January 2019 | Adaptation

In November 2018, a new coral reef communication effort involving inter-governmental organizations, international conservation organizations, and private foundations was announced at the Convention on Biological Diversity in Egypt to send a message about the need for bold leadership to save coral reefs from near-extinction by mid-century.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report published in October 2018 predicts that even with the strongest actions required to stabilize global surface temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, 70–90 percent of coral will be lost in the next few decades.

Coral reefs provide food and livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people around the world, support more than a quarter of all marine life, and protect communities and coastlines from natural disasters. If urgent action is not taken, they could be lost forever.  

In the 2018 report, The Coral Reef Economy, findings offered a compelling business case for investing in the protection of the world’s coral reefs, with economic benefits stretching into the tens of billions in just over a decade.

Focusing on two of the world’s major coral reef areas, the Coral Triangle and the Mesoamerican Reef, the study compared the estimated economic outcomes of two scenarios from now until 2030. One, a healthy reef scenario, where reefs are returned to a healthy state through increased investment in protection and preservation; and two, a degraded reef scenario, where the health of the reefs continues to decline from current levels.

It found that a shift to improved coral reef health from one of further decline in the period to 2030 could unlock an additional US$37 billion ($2.6 billion per annum) in Indonesia and an additional US$35 billion ($2.5 billion per annum) in Mesoamerica in three key reef-dependent sectors: tourism, commercial fisheries and coastal development.

Inadequate international support

Meanwhile, figures released in February 2018 on international financial support to protect and sustainably manage the world’s coral reefs reveal funding contributions are not only inadequate, but disproportionate to how much the fragile ecosystems offer humans in food, livelihoods, medicine and environmental protection.

The benefits of investing in the protection of coral reefs are already being felt by businesses within the international diving industry that have shifted to more sustainable dive practices. Green Fins, a UN Environment and Reef-World Foundation initiative, empowers dive and snorkel operators to make simple yet effective changes to their business practices, which in turn limit their impact on the coral reefs.

“Divers are generally very sensitive to environmental problems. The vast majority want to help protect the reefs and marine life that they explore. Helping them achieve this, and showing guests that you are leading the way in sustainable tourism, will bring guests to your doors,” says Matt Oldfield, co-founder and director of the ZuBlu dive travel platform, and Green Fins member.

“The bottom line is that in this age of environmental degradation and climate change, preserving the environment will boost your business, and benefit the reefs and marine life that your business relies on.”

New study on status of Pacific Ocean corals

The Pacific Ocean holds one quarter of the world’s coral reefs, which provide between 25 to 100 per cent of the dietary protein of Pacific Islanders, as well as livelihoods and shoreline protection. They are an integral part of the life and culture of eight million Pacific Islanders, according to the Status and Trends of Coral Reefs for the Pacific, a report by UN Environment and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme published in September 2018.

Based on long-term trends in coral reef health spanning 129 islands across the Pacific, the report finds that coral cover has remained stable with only a modest decline in the most recent decade. However, this belies a change in the coral community, towards one of more stress tolerant corals. This indicates reefs are already affected by climate change. Furthermore, based on downscaled climate change models, most coral reefs in the Pacific will be subject to bleaching almost every year within the next 15 years. The Pacific may soon struggle to recover quickly enough between consecutive events, leading to an accelerated rate of coral reef decline.

Changes in the variety of coral and the decrease of herbivore fish biomass as a direct result of human impact are signs that, even the Pacific, an area considered less impacted than other regions, coral reefs are changing. 

“The efforts throughout the International Year of the Reef 2018 have helped cement coral reef protection as a global priority,” says Jerker Tamelander, head of UN Environment coral reef unit. “But this momentum must continue if we, as a global community, are to prevent the loss of one of the world’s major ecosystems.”

The International Year of the Reef 2018 was the third annual global effort initiated by the International Coral Reef Initiative to raise awareness and understanding of the value of and the threats to coral reefs, so as to increase the effectiveness of conservation, research and management efforts worldwide.



Source: UN Environment