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Beyond Climate Change: Why Saving Coral Reefs Starts at Our Shores

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

Staghorn coral

Coral reefs, the vibrant and diverse underwater worlds, face a dual assault from climate change and local human impacts. Recent groundbreaking research by Arizona State University, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Centre (PIFSC), and Bangor University reveals a powerful strategy for coral reef preservation: mitigating both land and sea-based stressors.

Published on August 9 in a multidisciplinary science journal, the paper titled "Coral reefs benefit from reduced land-sea impacts under ocean warming" sheds light on a crucial link between local stressors and reef resilience. Senior author Greg Asner emphasizes, "Declining reef health is mainly driven by climate change, but pollutants and over-fishing are huge drivers that are more immediately actionable."

The study's focus on the unprecedented 2015 marine heatwave in Hawai'i provides valuable insights. Some reefs remarkably endured the heatwave's onslaught, raising the question: What sets them apart?

The answer lies in local land-sea conditions. Reefs that weathered the storm had fewer land-based stressors and thriving fish populations. This highlights the significance of integrated land-sea management – a cornerstone of coral reef conservation.

Gareth Williams from Bangor University emphasizes, "Adopting coupled land-sea policy measures, alongside global emission reductions, offers the best chance for coral reef ecosystems and the communities they support."

Concrete Steps for Immediate Impact

The study's findings translate into actionable steps for coral reef preservation. Addressing local stressors like wastewater pollution and overfishing emerges as a potent tool for immediate results. Wastewater pollution, rife with harmful substances, contributes to coral disease and stunted growth. Upgrading wastewater treatment and embracing sustainable fishing practices can tangibly enhance reef resilience.

Moreover, policy changes at different government levels play a pivotal role. Counties, states, and federal entities each hold a piece of the solution puzzle. While long-term climate change strategies unfold, rapid improvements can be made in areas like wastewater management.

Conclusion: A Unified Approach for Resilient Reefs

Coral reefs' destiny rests on a comprehensive strategy that confronts local threats alongside global challenges. As the study underscores, preserving coral reefs necessitates a two-pronged approach: mitigating local stressors and championing overarching climate efforts.

This research collaboration's findings implore us to become stewards of our oceans and catalysts for change. By curbing pollution and unsustainable fishing practices, we bestow coral reef ecosystems with the resilience to thrive amidst climate change's pressures. It's a rallying call for a united front in safeguarding these mesmerizing underwater wonders for generations to come.

Source: Jamison M. Gove, Gareth J. Williams, Joey Lecky, Eric Brown, Eric Conklin, Chelsie Counsell, Gerald Davis, Mary K. Donovan, Kim Falinski, Lindsey Kramer, Kelly Kozar, Ning Li, Jeffrey A. Maynard, Amanda McCutcheon, Sheila A. McKenna, Brian J. Neilson, Aryan Safaie, Christopher Teague, Robert Whittier, Gregory P. Asner. Coral reefs benefit from reduced land–sea impacts under ocean warming. Nature, 2023; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-06394-w

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