2,600 scientists sign landmark coral reefs statement
With coral reefs around the world in rapid decline, it is imperative to make every effort to save what’s left, say the world’s top marine researchers, who are gathered this week in Australia for the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium.
In an unprecedented move, 2,600 of the world’s top marine researchers released their Consensus Statement on Climate Change and Coral Reefs.
The consensus statement calls for a worldwide effort to overcome growing threats to coral ecosystems and to the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on them. It urges measures to head off the escalating damage caused by rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification, overfishing and pollution from the land. See: http://www.icrs2012.com/Consensus_Statement.htm.
Professor Terry Hughes, convener of the Symposium and director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies said: “There is a window of opportunity for the world to act on climate change – but it is closing rapidly.”
Hughes was joined by three of the world’s leading coral experts at a media briefing at the start of ICRS2012. Please visit www.icrs2012mediaportal.com to view a video of Hughes’ full statements and those of Jeremy Jackson, Senior Scientist Emeritus, Smithsonian Institution and the 2012 recipient of the Darwin Medal; Stephen Palumbi, director of Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station; and Robert Richmond, Research Professor, Kewalo Marine Laboratory, University of Hawaii at Manoa and President of the International Society for Reef Studies.
Jackson said during his remarks that reefs globally have seen severe declines in coral cover over the last several decades. In the Caribbean, for example, 75-85 percent of the coral cover has been lost in the last 35 years. But even the Great Barrier Reef, the best-protected reef ecosystem on the planet, has seen 50 percent decline in coral cover in the last 50 years.
Jackson added that climate change is exacerbating that already rapid decline and on its own calls for immediate action to better protect coral reefs. But climate change is also causing increased droughts, agricultural failure and sea level rise at increasingly faster rates that implies huge problems for societies.
“That means what’s good for reefs is also critically important for people and we should wake up to that fact,” Jackson said. “The future of coral reefs isn’t a marine version of tree-hugging but a central problem for humanity.”
Palumbi said governments must make stronger commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But he added addressing local threats, such as poor land development and unsustainable fishing practices, is as critical. Research has shown that healthy reefs are more resilient to climate change and recover faster from bleaching events. Positive local actions include rebuilding fish stocks, reducing harmful runoff and pollution, preventing habitat destruction and establishing more marine protected areas.
“Local action buys us time to deal with the bigger issue of climate change,” Palumbi said.
Richmond stressed that the consensus statement is not just another effort at documenting the mounting problems facing coral reefs, but is focused on bridging the best available science to policy development and implementation through partnering with and supporting both elected and traditional leaders.
“The scientific community has an enormous amount of research showing we have a problem. But right now, we are like doctors diagnosing a patient’s disease, but not prescribing any effective cures,” Richmond said. “We have to start more actively engaging the process and supporting public officials with real-world prescriptions for success.”
Held only once every four years, ICRS is a 5-day event that will draw more than 2,000 people from some 80 countries, to present cutting-edge science and hear the latest advances in coral reef conservation. The research and findings being presented at ICRS2012 are fundamental in informing international and national policies and the sustainable use of coral reefs globally.
Coral reefs provide food and livelihood for many tens of millions of coastal inhabitants globally, generate significant revenues via tourism and function as a natural breakwater for waves and storms. It has been estimated that reefs provide upwards of $170 to $375 billion (USD) in goods and services globally each year.
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