1

People and ecosystems

Understanding of the links between coral reef ecosystems, the goods and services they provide to people, and the wellbeing of human societies.

2

Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution

3

Responding to a changing world

Advancing the fundamental understanding of the key processes underpinning reef resilience.

Coral Bleaching

Coral Bleaching

Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au

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A brave new world for coral reefs

01
Jun 2017

The future of the world’s coral reefs hangs in the balance, but it is not too late to save them, according to a major study published today in the prestigious journal, Nature.

Scientists say that the reefs we know today are changing rapidly as they struggle to cope with the combined impacts of global warming, overfishing and pollution.

“The reefs of the future will be radically different from today or 30 years ago,” says Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE). He led the study on reef futures and their capacity for rapid shifts. “But, if we take the right steps immediately, we can – and must – secure a future for reefs, recognising that the possibility of restoring them to their former condition is no longer possible.”

“Current approaches to protecting coral reefs are failing because too often we ignore the real reasons for their decline,” says co-author Professor Josh Cinner, also from the Coral CoE. “We need to understand why they are declining, and encourage changes in human behaviour to sustain reefs for the future.”

“It’s death by a thousand cuts,” remarked co-author Professor Jeremy Jackson, from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. “Reefs suffer simultaneously from dredging, overharvesting, pollution, sewage, sediments, and steadily increasing temperatures.”

These combined elements are transforming reefs into new configurations, where the mix of species is rapidly changing. According to the scientists, navigating this transition will require radical shifts in the science, management and governance of reefs worldwide.

“We can’t save every species or turn back history,” Prof. Hughes explained. “The challenge now is to steer reefs into the future, to ensure that they remain fully functional, and to retain their ability to support the livelihoods and wellbeing of the 100s of millions of people who depend on them.”

Professor Steve Palumbi, Director of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station, adds, “Coral species themselves are changing, evolving, adapting at a huge scale. Their ability to change rapidly is an asset for us – the corals that live on warmer reefs now may be better prepared for future conditions. And every asset we have is important to use,” he said.

“The window of opportunity to save reefs remains open, but it is closing rapidly,” the scientists say. “One degree of average global warming has already caused three global coral bleaching events, so +1.5 or +2C will radically change reefs for centuries to come.”

The scientists base their future vision on the COP21 Paris agreement. Reefs will run the gauntlet of climate change over coming decades as ocean temperatures continue to climb. However, some areas will warm less than others, and under the COP21 Paris Agreement, the most extreme future temperature rises and severe impacts of ocean acidification will be avoided.

Prof. Hughes is emphatic about the importance of COP21 to reefs: “They’ll be different, but recognisable as coral reefs. However, if COP21 fails badly, coral reefs as we know them today will be destroyed.”

These findings are presented in a major article published in an Insight on Biodiversity in this week’s Nature.

 

PAPER

The paper can be found here

 

IMAGES

A selection of photos and videos must carry credit as listed here

 

CONTACTS FOR INTERVIEWS

 

Prof. Terry Hughes

Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

Phone: +61 (0)400 720 164, +61 (0)7 4781 4000

Email: Terry.Hughes@jcu.edu.au

 

Prof. Joshua Cinner

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

Phone: + 61 (0)417 714 138, +61 (0)7 4781 6751

Email: Joshua.Cinner@jcu.edu.au

 

Prof. Jeremy Jackson

Senior Scientist Emeritus, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Director Emeritus, Centre for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USA

Phone: +1 (858) 518 7613

Email: jeremybcjackson@gmail.com

 

Prof. Stephen Palumbi

Director of the Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University, USA

Phone: +1 (831) 655-6210

Email: spalumbi@stanford.edu

 

Ingrid van de Leemput

Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management, Wageningen University and Research Centre, The Netherlands

Phone: (+31) 0317 489701

Email: ingrid.vandeleemput@wur.nl

 

Melissa Lyne

Communications Manager, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

Phone: +61 (0)415 514 328

Email: Melissa.lyne@jcu.edu.au

Coral reef at Lizard Island. Credit: Terry Hughes, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Coral reef at Lizard Island. Credit: Terry Hughes, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

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Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au