Leading marine researchers highlight global warming threats
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Coral reefs are such a fundamental link in marine ecosystems that their loss causes ecological ripples felt far beyond immediate coastal areas.
The current widespread decline of reefs around the world — exacerbated by global warming — is huge cause for concern, according to 2,600 of the world’s top marine researchers gathered this week in Australia for the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium.
To try and draw more attention to the plight of coral reefs, the scientists released a Consensus Statement on Climate Change and Coral Reefs, calling for a worldwide effort to overcome growing threats to coral ecosystems and to the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on them.
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.
It urges measures to head off the escalating damage caused by rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification, overfishing and pollution from the land.
“There is a window of opportunity for the world to act on climate change – but it is closing rapidly,’ said Professor Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.
During a media briefing at the start of the symposium, Hughes and other leading marine scientists and coral reef experts said the issue is truly global. Caribbean reef cover has declined by 75 to 85 percent in just the past 35 years, and even the Great Barrier Reef, the best-protected reef ecosystem on the planet, has seen a 50 percent decline in coral cover in the last 50 years.
“The scientific community has an enormous amount of research showing we have a problem,” said Robert Richmond, of the Kewalo Marine Laboratory at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “But right now, we are like doctors diagnosing a patient’s disease, but not prescribing any effective cures,” said Richmond, president of the International Society for Reef Studies. “We have to start more actively engaging the process and supporting public officials with real-world prescriptions for success.”
Videos of the opening statements are online at the symposium’s media portal.
Climate change is exacerbating that already rapid decline and on its own calls for immediate action to better protect coral reefs,” said Jeremy Jackson, a senior Scientist Emeritus with Smithsonian Institution and the 2012 recipient of the Darwin Medal. But climate change is also causing increased droughts, agricultural failure and sea level rise at increasingly faster rates that implies huge problems for societies, he added.
“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.”
Governments must make stronger commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Stephen Palumbi, director of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station.
But addressing local threats, such as poor land development and unsustainable fishing practices, is also 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.
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.
More info at the symposium website: http://www.icrs2012.com.
Filed under: biodiversity, climate and weather, coral reefs, Environment, global warming Tagged: | 12th International Coral Reef Symposium, climate change, coral reefs, global warming, Great Barrier Reef, Hopkins Marine Station, International Society for Reef Studies