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The world’s coral reefs are in trouble, but don’t give up on them yet

Terry Hughes and Joshua Cinner write in The Conversation (1.6.17) that tropical coral reefs can be saved from climate change and other pressures, but the window of opportunity is closing. Still, the authors argue, reefs are guaranteed to be markedly different in the future.

‘The world’s coral reefs are undoubtedly in deep trouble. But as we and our colleagues argue in a review published today in Nature, we shouldn’t give up hope for coral reefs, despite the pervasive doom and gloom.

‘Instead, we have to accept that coral reefs around the world are transforming rapidly into a newly emerging ecosystem unlike anything humans have experienced before. Realistically, we can no longer expect to conserve, maintain, preserve or restore coral reefs as they used to be.

‘This is a confronting message. But it also focuses attention on what we need to do to secure a realistic future for reefs, and to retain the food security and other benefits they provide to society.

‘The past three years have been the warmest on record, and many coral reefs throughout the tropics have suffered one or more bouts of bleaching during prolonged underwater heatwaves.

‘A bleached coral doesn’t necessarily die. But in 2016, two-thirds of corals on the northern Great Barrier Reef did die in just six months, as a result of unprecedented heat stress.’

Survival of coral reefs requires radical rethink of what conservation means

Michael Slezak reports in The Guardian (1.6.17) on scientists’ assertions that reef conservation must not be an attempt to restore reefs of the past, but to identify and protect the parts essential to their continued existence.

‘The survival of coral reefs requires a radical rethink of what conservation means, as well as embracing some of the changes they are undergoing, according to a paper by leading coral reef scientists.

‘“Helping coral reefs to safely navigate the Anthropocene is a profound challenge for multiscale governance,” the scientists say in a paper published today in the journal Nature.

‘They argue reef conservation must no longer be seen as an attempt to restore reefs of the past, or conserve their existing values, but rather to identify the parts of reefs that are essential to their continued existence, and protect those.

‘… In the paper, the scientists argue saving the world’s reefs requires the acceptance that the reefs of the future will look very different to those of today, and humans may need to help them adapt – perhaps by intervening to increase the proportion of coral species that are tolerant to rising temperatures.’

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