Interventions needed to save the world's reefs

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 warns that reef ecosystems globally are in catastrophic decline and model predictions indicate that mass coral bleaching could become the new norm by 2050, even if global warming can be kept within 1.5oC of pre-industrial levels. Existing conservation approaches could become insufficient to protect coral reefs under any climate future, and new and potentially riskier interventions are needed to save reefs.

One of the technologies the paper discusses is assisted gene flow which may involve the relocation of corals from warmer to cooler reefs.

Another approach involves enhancing the ability of corals to cope with climate change through selective breeding using techniques commonly used in agriculture.

Researchers stress that exploring these technologies needs to go hand in hand with continuing and potentially increasing efforts in conventional management.

Climate change mitigation, continued regional management of water quality and controlling crown-of-thorns starfish are all essential.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chairman Russell Reichelt said new ways to manage coral reefs were needed in light of changes to coral condition and future climate projections.

“After mass bleaching and cumulative impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, it’s important to develop resilience initiatives and new ways to manage and protect coral reefs,” he said.

“This was the focus of discussions at our Reef Summit with 70 national and international experts earlier this year, and we welcome new information to inform this approach to reef management.”

Reefs can recover from moderate bleaching, and this is happening in many parts of the Great Barrier Reef; however more severe bleaching events are expected in the future making restoration and adaptation programs essential for the survival of reefs.

The article ‘New interventions are needed to save coral reefs’ is available here.

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