MAY 17, 2022 11:00 AM PDT

Broad International Cooperation Needed to Save Coral Reefs

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

Coral reefs have long been a central focus of the impacts of climate change. We hear stories every other day, it seems, about how these vibrant ecosystems, including the Great Barrier Reef, are disappearing or being damaged as oceans warm. The most obvious sign of damage is coral bleaching, which about 75% of reefs have experienced to some degree. Bleaching causes coral to die out due to waters that are too warm. This is troublesome because coral reefs, though occupying a small amount of area, help support about a third of the marine organisms in the world.

As coral reefs die out, coastlines are more susceptible to erosion. It can also have a negative impact on local tourism economies. Conservation efforts are of course underway, but new research suggests that any fragmented approach to saving some reefs, or portions of reefs, may not be enough. A new study published in Global Change Biology suggests that more extensive, coordinated, international efforts are needed to save these vital reefs.

Specifically, the paper argues for the use of “mesoscale sanctuaries.” These sanctuaries are essentially larger areas of protected land or ocean environments that can encompass thousands of miles of area. Because these sanctuaries can be so big, however, they naturally cross international borders. That means that international cooperation is needed to make these sanctuaries a reality.

Why does this work? Take the Great Barrier Reef as an example. It is one of the most protected coral reefs in the world. And yet, just earlier this year, the Great Barrier Reef was hit with its fourth coral bleaching episode in almost a decade. But if it’s so protected, why was that happening?

Despite being a protected area, the Great Barrier Reef is still impacted by global rises in ocean temperatures. It’s part of a complex web. And because different countries have different approaches to conservation of these vital ecosystems, these different approaches can have an impact on the Great Barrier Reef.

Long-term strategies to tamper climate changes (such as switching to renewable energy) are still vital. However, researchers believe more coordinated efforts could be crucial to turning the tide when it comes to coral reef health and sustainability in the short-term. 

Sources: Science Daily; Global Change Biology; NPR

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
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