In a study recently published in Nature, two researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University make a case for coral reefs. But it’s not the normal plea nor strategy we’ve heard before.
Instead, Professor Tiffany Morrison and Professor Terry Hughes are putting forth a fresh idea: let’s save the reefs in order to save the planet. This holistic approach, though it may sound overstated, is actually the perfect solution to our climate crisis – and, say the authors, it can’t come soon enough.
"Current approaches to protect coral reefs are not enough to stem the ongoing decline," Professor Hughes said. "Attempts to grow corals in aquaria or underwater nurseries are futile unless we address the major threats," he said.
Alternatively, what we must do is incorporate both oceans and land, explains lead author Professor Morrison. "We must take a new, bolder approach to tackle the underlying causes of coral reef decline. This means fixing the causes on a global, as well as local, scale -- both in the sea and on land. Done strategically, these actions can reduce global emissions, capture carbon, curb agricultural runoff onto coastal reefs while also enhancing people's livelihoods and food security," she said.
Morrison and Hughes point towards countries and cities who have already taken the lead with commitments to on-land measures that have direct impacts on oceans and coral reefs. "What we're suggesting is not impossible," the authors said. "Countries such as Costa Rica, states such as California and cities such as Copenhagen have all taken up initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions and provide alternative economic opportunities that set powerful examples for the rest of the world."
Coral reefs play a crucial role in the lives of 400 million people who depend on them for food, work, and protection from waves, storms and floods. Reefs are also the most diverse marine ecosystem and provide habitat, nesting places, and food for nearly 30% marine fish species, despite the fact that they only cover only 0.5% of the ocean floor. And they will be gone by 2070 if we continue business as usual.
Saving them is critical, say the authors. "Reefs won't disappear if we tackle the root cause of their decline; global carbon emissions need to be slashed to 45% of 2010 levels by 2030." And to do so, we need to think big and bold and broad. After all, all of nature is interconnected, so when trying to save it, interdisciplinary action is the way to go!