Thursday, November 02, 2006

An Inconvenient Cor(a)llary

Noises of concern about coral reefs have penetrated even The Sun, one of Britain's less enlightened newspapers, which recently reported the US (16th coral reef) taskforce (meeting on 24 to 28 October) as saying that 60% of corals could be gone within 25 years.

So what can be done? Part of the official answer is to manage the effects of coral bleaching in order to encourage resilience.

This approach is outlined in A Reef Manager's Guide to Coral Bleaching, available from NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program, and in
Coral Reef Resilience and Resistance to Bleaching from the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the Nature Conservancy.

The Guide was first published on 11 Oct and was subject of some discussion at the third ITMEMS
on 16 to 20 October (I won't go into detail on that here, but a related issue is described in the previous post in this blog). The Guide identifies three key actions reef managers can take to help reefs survive and recover from mass bleaching events:
  • increase observations of reef condition before, during and after bleaching to increase information and understanding of impacts and areas that may be especially resistant to bleaching,
  • reduce stressors (e.g., pollution, human use) on reefs during severe bleaching events to help corals survive the event, and
  • design and implement reef management strategies to support reef recovery and resilience, including reducing land- based pollution and protecting coral areas that may resist bleaching and serve as sources of coral larvae for "reseeding" reefs.
Not everyone is convinced. "Why are we not speaking out against this report?" ask James Cervino, a marine pathologist at Pace University, of his fellow scientists and subscribers to Coral List (Vol 41, Issue 1, 1 Nov 06):
Is it out fear of not getting funding from federal agencies? Are we so afraid to speak the Inconvenient Truth and say that the only way to save corals from heat stroke is to drastically reduce carbon emissions beyond the Kyoto Protocol? I respect James Hansen...for speaking up and telling the real Inconvenient Truth regarding global warming! Can the coral reef scientists speak out and say that this federal report is spurious in nature?

[In addition to tackling climate change] will the USA begin to reduce the large amounts of sewage and fertilizers that are spilling out into the reefs? Can someone point me in the direction of this new amazing plan that is part of a federally funded program that begins to implement tertiary treatment in South Florida and the US Virgin Islands?
Responses to James Cervino's comments so far have included this from the environmental economist James Spurgeon:
In terms of what coral managers/scientists can do with specific reference to "coral reef" management, perhaps those are the best actions!? However, in terms of what coral reef managers/scientists should do that would have the most impact, it would be to: i) beef up the awareness of the potential impending tragedy facing coral reefs (and the millions of people that rely on their ecosystem goods and services) to the general public and key decision-makers; and ii) promote the actions proposed in the recent Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change... The fate of corals gets a mention in the figure on page v (of the Executive Summary).

Fortunately, the UK Government is planning to take a lead on the matter (see this link). Let us hope other governments will work together to follow suit. As highlighted at the recent ITMEMS 3 conference, that will only happen if politicians are fully aware of the true economic consequences and voters make it an important issue.

[James Cervino and James Spurgeon are quoted in this blog with their permission]

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