Study outlines hope for reefs

The uncertain future of the world’s reef systems might be improved if management efforts factor in evolution and adaptation into policy making, a new international study has found.

According to the University of Queensland’s Professor Peter Mumby, the research shows how conservation efforts should be focused on proactively creating conditions that help coral systems adapt to the changing climate.

“Our research shows that by making smart decisions today, conservation managers can generate the conditions that can help corals adapt to rising temperatures,” Professor Mumby said.

“Climate change is decimating coral reefs, but our study offers tools that may be able to help these ecosystems.

“By facilitating evolution, conservation efforts can help corals adapt to rising temperatures.”

Internationally, some groups have advocated protecting reefs in the coolest waters, hoping that they’ll have longer to adapt, but the researchers found protecting diverse reef habitat types across a spectrum of ocean conditions was key to helping corals adapt to climate change.

“Some reefs are naturally warmer than others and it’s important to design protection so that corals can move freely between these areas as the ocean continues to warm,” Professor Mumby said.

“Fortunately, the science to inform this has been underway for a few years on the Great Barrier Reef.

“Together, a diversity of reef types act as stepping stones that give corals the best chance for adapting and moving as climate changes.”

The researchers also found that improving local conditions for reefs – by effectively reducing local stressors such as overfishing and water pollution – was key.

But they found action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions remained fundamentally important.

The world’s coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, supporting the livelihoods of more than 500 million people and valued at over $530 billion.

“It’s time to act now – we’re losing our reefs – but a diversity of coral types and reduced local stressors can make an enormous difference in ensuring their survival,” Professor Mumby said.

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