So, What’s the Answer?
A significant part of the solution is going to have to be revitalizing and rebuilding reefs. Those tasks will be challenging, but we do have the knowledge to implement them ó specifically, how to better manage reefs to reduce sedimentation, pollution and overfishing so that the reefs can grow. We will also need to be more proactive in reef restoration to spur that growth. Increasing ocean temperatures and acidification will add to the challenge and (some would say) make the endeavor hopeless; I think these predictions are overly dire and do not account for resilience or evolution.
Yes, these approaches might seem expensive. But compare their costs against the cost of all of the individual “grey” infrastructure projects such as those being erected on Petit Martinique. And remember that new climate adaptation funds are already starting to flow in the billions of dollars; these small island developing states are primary recipients of those funds, and right now the gray engineers and businesses are selling just one approach.
The recognition that wave attenuation is a globally critical ecosystem service will challenge conservation’s priorities as well. These fringing reefs are rarely the most scenic, beautiful, remote or diverse coral ecosystems. Indeed, it’s that they are directly in front of villages, towns and cities that makes their revitalization such a high priority. We will also likely have to get comfortable with added hardened structures like reef blocks, as they provide substrate for oysters and corals; add quickly to some of the attenuation benefits; and include the industries and engineers who would otherwise promote only sea walls.
This is not exactly the work I signed up for some years back when I became a marine conservationist, but personally I am excited to be part of work that jointly meets conservation and hazard mitigation goals; that’s fulfilling to me.
Mike Beck is a lead scientist with The Nature Conservancy’s Global Marine Team and a research associate at the University of California-Santa Cruz.
(Image: Windward Cemetery, Grenada. Source: Scott Schill.)
M. Field, A. Ogston, and C. Storlazzi. 2011. Rising sea level may cause decline of fringing coral reefs. EOS 92:273-274.
M. Johnson et al. 2011. Caribbean Acropora restoration guide. Best practices for propagation and population enhancement. Arlington, VA: The Nature Conservancy.