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worldwide coral reef conservation through research, education, outreach, and restoration

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Rebuilding Coral Reefs – The ICRS's urgent call for action

The straightforward headline of the policy paper just published by the International Coral Reef Society (ICRS) expresses quite clearly the state of the world's coral reefs. Rebuilding reefs will be essential as they are already in a dire situation, and more corals will disappear while climate change accelerates.

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The ICRS is not only representing a great part of the scientific coral community but also functioning as its mouthpiece, now urgently addressing the international policy community to take action on "three critical and interlinked areas of international policy—Climate Change, Biodiversity, and Sustainable Development" to help these magnificent, diverse, and economically important ecosystems survive into the next century. And time is pressing: "the coming year and decade likely offer the last chance for international, regional, national, and local entities to change the trajectory of coral reefs from heading towards world-wide collapse to heading towards slow but steady recovery."

About 80 percent of Caribbean corals have disappeared, and The Great Barrier Reef in Australia has lost more than half of its coral cover during the last 25 years. In contrast, over 500 million people worldwide depend on healthy coral reefs for food, coastline protection, and income from the fishing and tourism industries.

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From left to right: Healthy coral reef in the Coral Triangle (Bart Shepherd); Coral bleaching (The Ocean Agency / Ocean Image Bank); Subsistence fishing (Arseny Togulev on Unsplash)

Coral reefs are facing many local and global threats and "are increasingly impaired in their capacity to recover from impacts." "Reef decline becomes ecologically and economically catastrophic long before individual species are at risk of extinction. Stresses on coral reefs are reaching levels beyond which the ecosystem services provided by reefs that humans depend on will rapidly deteriorate globally and be extremely difficult to restore."

Today, as underpinned by the ICRS policy paper, there is a scientific consensus that without active measures to rebuild coral reefs, not much hope is left for this vital ecosystem. Investment in coral reef restoration will pay off economically, for instance, as living shoreline protection and through income from fisheries. Eventually, losing corals reefs would be much more expensive than funding their future (UN Environment Programme: The Coral Reef Economy).

We need a holistic approach, combining fields of action in slowing and mitigating climate change, reducing local impacts that are threats to reefs, and―this is new in its postulated immediacy―active coral reef restoration. These are three interdependent pillars of action as proposed by the ICRS:

  • Reduce global climate threats by lowering greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon sequestration.
  • Improve local conditions by increasing protection and improving management for coral reef resilience.
  • Invest in restoration science and active coral reef restoration to enhance recovery and adaptation rates, maintain or restore biodiversity, and explore new restoration technologies.

SECORE's mission to create and share the tools and technologies to sustainably restore coral reefs worldwide is well represented in the third pillar. We develop innovative technologies and set the ground to upscale restoration while enhancing biodiversity and enabling intervention on corals' evolutionary traits to be implemented. The postulated "shift from coral propagation by means of fragmentation to sexual propagation is being actively investigated to tackle issues of genetic diversity and scalability", and this is already part of SECORE's strategy in taking advantage of the enhanced sexual coral reproduction approach (also known as sexual coral restoration, sexual coral breeding, larval propagation, or enhanced in vitro fertilization).

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From left to right: Collection of coral egg and sperm bundles (Paul Selvaggio); SECORE's specifically designed self-stabilizing substrates with tiny growing coral babies (Sandra Mendoza-Quiroz); Our coral kindergarden also known as Coral Rearing In-situ Basin (CRIB) (Kelly Latijnhouwers)

At SECORE, we are following a two-fold strategy to push large-scale restoration forward. We train our local implementation partners and provide them with our latest technology developments while refining and developing new ones as we go along. We are operating in a tight time frame on a limited budget, but we are working hard to give coral reefs a future!

 

All quotes are excerpts of the original publication:
Knowlton N, Grottoli A, Kleypas J, Obura D, Corcoran E, de Goeij J, Felis T, Harding S, Mayfield A, Miller M, Osuka K, Peixoto R, Randall CJ, Voolstra CR, Wells S, Wild C, Ferse S. 2021. Rebuilding Coral Reefs: A Decadal Grand Challenge. International Coral Reef Society and Future Earth Coasts 56 pp.

 

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SECORE's lead partners are:

Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
California Academy of Science
Hagenbeck
The Builders Initiative

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