The World's Reefs at Risk
Recently, the World Resources Institute released a new study on the state of the world's coral reefs. This study, a sequel to a 1998 report, is called Reefs at Risk Revisited, and presents a comprehensive analysis of coral reefs, including how they are affected by climate change, and their outlook for the future. It includes a Global Reefs Map, which serves as a visual tool for understanding how the health of reefs varies geographically. Even for those of us who are involved in reef conservation, the findings are alarming, with 75% of the world's reefs threatened by human activity and rising ocean temperatures, but only 20% currently protected. It also estimates that 90% will be threatened within two decades.
The introductory video summarizes the findings:
The authors do share some optimism, however, in noting the adaptability of many reefs and the importance of local efforts and effectively marine protected areas (MPAs) in preserving them.
Notably, the reefs that are most capable of withstanding degradation are those near developed nations, such as Australia. Other regions in Melanesia, Africa, and parts of Southeast Asia, have a very low chance of surviving, due to the locale's lack of economic and agricultural resources, health, and education. The combination of local threats--such as overfishing and pollution--and the harmful effects of climate change, including ocean acidification and rising sea levels, bring many challenges to these already impoverished regions. For this reason, it is important to work with local communities to ensure that MPAs are in fact being given the protections they require. The study indicates that over a quarter of designated protected areas are not effective. Locally based conservation methods work directly with the communities involved to ensure that restrictions on fishing and pollution are enforced.
These findings also emphasize the importance of working with people as well as ecosystems. Uplifting the coastal communities in developing areas greatly increased the likelihood of the reefs withstanding degradation, and helps the individuals who depend on coral reefs for their food and livelihoods.