Saving Coral Reefs Requires Halting Climate Change

Queen parrotfish on a healthy and diverse coral reef in Curaçao. (Photo courtesy Stan Bysshe)

Local conservation efforts are important to restoring and protecting coral reefs. However, if we don’t halt climate change those efforts will not be enough to save them. That’s why marine biologists and ocean lovers have their eyes on the COP 21 climate negotiations in Paris this week.

Last year, I co-authored a New York Times op-ed entitled “We Can Save the Caribbean’s Coral Reefs.” The premise was that we must not use inaction on global emissions reductions as an excuse to postpone local conservation actions. Dr. Jeremy Jackson and I wrote, “We need to stop all forms of overfishing, establish large and effectively enforced marine protected areas, and impose strict regulations on coastal development and pollution, while at the same time working to reduce fossil fuel emissions driving climate change.”

Over the last year, dire scientific results have continued to roll in. Sea level is steadily rising with no end in sight. Ocean water continues to warm. Coral reefs have bleached worldwide. Intense storms fueled by warmer seas bash coasts and corals. The fate of coral reefs is one reason it’s critical that world leaders take collective, meaningful action.

Meanwhile, coastal communities are increasingly engaged in ocean conservation. There are some truly notable efforts, and those are buffering the impacts of climate change. Yet we urgently need strong climate policy grounded in science: a limit on total carbon emissions and a carbon tax, huge investments in clean energy research and development, and adequate support for developing countries to cope with climate change.

Queen parrotfish on a healthy and diverse coral reef in Curaçao. (Photo courtesy Stan Bysshe)

Due to nature’s impressive resilience, coral reefs probably won’t cease to exist regardless, but without bold policy changes they won’t be anything like the —> Read More