Protection of coral reefs will benefit all ecosystems

Clown Fish and Anemone

Scientists believe that further protection of coral reefs will benefit all ecosystems, including land-based ecosystems.

Two researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University (Coral CoE at JCU) have stated that the world’s reefs will be almost completely gone by 2070 if climate change continues.

Professor Tiffany Morrison and Prof Terry Hughes suggest a new, holistic approach to safeguarding coral reefs by focussing on land as well as the ocean.

“We must take a new, bolder approach to tackle the underlying causes of coral reef decline,” lead author Prof Morrison said. “This means fixing the causes on a global, as well as local, scale–both in the sea and on land.”

Professor Morrison suggests that policy makers in Australia need to do more to protect the Great Barrier Reef. She suggests that replacing coal-fired power with renewables, developing land-based aquaculture and restoring terrestrial vegetation and wetlands in the 425,000-square-kilometres catchment of the Great Barrier Reef.

“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.

Current approaches to protect coral reefs are not enough to stem the ongoing decline,” Prof Hughes said.

“Attempts to grow corals in aquaria or underwater nurseries are futile unless we address the major threats,” he said.

“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.”

Only 0.5% of the ocean floor is covered by coral reefs, however, they support almost 30% of the world’s marine fish species. Additionally, 400 million people rely on reefs for work, food and protection from flooding.

“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.”

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