The Chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Coral Reef Specialist Group, David Obura, has warned in an article published in the journal Science that limiting global warming to below 2°C in line with the Paris Agreement provides the only chance for the survival of coral reefs.
According to recent data, coral reefs around the world may have a chance of long-term survival if warming is limited to under 2°C, though even this may be too little too late for many reef systems.
“We are on the doorstep of a world without coral reefs and the only way to avoid this is through the full implementation of the Paris Agreement,” says IUCN Director General Inger Andersen.
“We cannot afford to lose these uniquely rich ecosystems which provide food, livelihoods and coastal protection to 500 million people worldwide.”
As well as limiting warming the world must also deal with non-climate threats to reefs, such as pollution and overfishing, to give them a chance of survival, the Science editorial warns. To tackle these threats, economic systems must become sustainable and circular, minimising waste as well as emissions, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
“We need urgent global action to curb greenhouse gas emissions if we are to help reefs survive the devastating wave of coral bleaching we have seen over the last three years, and that will further intensify in the future,” says David Obura.
“The Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals provide a framework for that action. World leaders must now stand behind these commitments if coral reefs are to survive the Anthropocene.”
He also points to the need for grassroots and large-scale conservation initiatives throughout the tropics to help ensure reef survival. Frontier research, such as efforts to accelerate genetic selection towards heat-resistant corals, is also needed, he writes.
Meanwhile, a collective of Australian scientists, reef managers and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has published a paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution concluding that technological interventions are needed to save coral reefs under the effects of climate change.
Dr Ken Anthony of the Australian Institute of Marine Science is lead author in the article which outlines a range of new reef restoration and adaptation technologies needed to help protect reefs around the world in a time of climate change.
The article was co-authored by 18 scientists and reef managers from organisations including: AIMS, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Queensland University of Technology, Australian National University, Southern Cross University, University of Queensland, Great Barrier Reef Foundation and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The paper discusses technologies such as assisted gene flow which may involve the relocation of corals from warmer to cooler reefs; and enhancing the ability of corals to cope with climate change through selective breeding using techniques commonly used in agriculture.
The article ‘New interventions are needed to save coral reefs’ is available here.