By Stephanie Wear, The Nature Conservancy
The news about coral reefs seems dire lately—overfishing, pollution and climate change have some scientists picturing a world without coral reefs. It’s true, the threats to reefs today are severe and growing. Caribbean reefs are a shadow of what they were a few decades ago, and many other reefs globally are changing.
But there are also thriving reefs around the world in spite of all the things people have done to them—from Curaçao to Raja Ampat to Palau. Their ability to persist in the face of global climate change is remarkable. Marine science is discovering that reefs are incredibly resilient—and that this resilience can be boosted with proper management techniques.
Here’s an example: In 1998, when the world experienced the largest ever coral bleaching event, and massive extents of corals died, some observers thought that was it for coral reefs. Yet, little by little, corals came back. What scientists and conservationists alike have been doing since is trying to understand why and how—and we are making significant strides that we can build on in our protection work.
There certainly will be winners and losers among reef ecosystems, and reefs will be different in the future than they were a few decades ago or than they are even today. And there is no question that if we don’t get a handle on CO2 emissions (increasing CO2 makes the ocean more acidic—a problem for reefs and many marine organisms), we will certainly see a loss in reefs and the many benefits they provide as sources of food, jobs, medicines and as buffers from storm waves.