Drastic efforts to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate ecosystem stressors are needed to save tropical coral reefs in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, a report funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies' Vibrant Oceans initiative finds.
Published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, the report, Social–environmental drivers inform strategic management of coral reefs in the Anthropocene, examined the impact of twenty-one climate, social, and environmental factors on the ecology of more than twenty-five hundred reef coral assemblages in forty-four countries encompassing more than three hundred unique species. Based on data gathered by more than eighty marine researchers, the study found observations of bleaching, a visible indication of rising water temperatures, which cause corals to expel algae they normally depend on for energy and, eventually, cause them to starve.
According to the report's authors, the Indo-Pacific reefs can be saved and ecosystem collapse can be averted through the immediate implementation of a three-prong strategy of "protect, recover, and transform" — that is, protect from human impacts the 17 percent of the reefs studied that are still functioning; help the 54 percent that are damaged but have the potential to recover; and transition coastal communities that depend on them away from the 28 percent that are too damaged to recover.
"There are a lot of reefs in our territories, such as Hawaii, American Samoa and Guam," said University of California, Irvine assistant professor Joleah Lamb, who contributed one of the largest data sets to the study. "They all face severe impacts from the loss of coral reefs, including on coastal protection, food, and income from tourism. And even if you don’t live close to a reef, carbon emissions contribute to climate change that harms corals worldwide."