Battered by overfishing, climate change and pollution, the world’s coral reefs are struggling to survive.
Now, one group of scientists is sketching out a new blueprint to save them.
Their findings, summarized today in an op-ed for CNN, amount to a survival guide for the world’s remaining reefs.
“Those of us working to save reefs have a few different strategies we can implement,” explains Jack Kittinger, the author of the op-ed and head of Conservation International’s global fisheries and aquaculture work. “The two most fundamental ones involve putting in place strong fishing regulations or creating a marine protected area.”
These two strategies combine to create what he calls a “coral reef first aid kit.”
The scientists, including Kittinger, studied the use of these first aid kits in 1,800 coral reefs around the world. What they found is that the places where we can make the biggest potential conservation gains are the ones that have experienced relatively little stress from human activity.
“The less stress a reef is under, the greater the conservation potential,” Kittinger writes. “Reefs in this category exist in all the oceans — they aren’t in just one country, or one region. Some of these reefs are fairly degraded. Others are fairly healthy. But they all have the potential for significant conservation gains.”
According to Kittinger, these are the reefs that governments and conservationists should prioritize for protection and restoration moving forward.
“If we do nothing, these reefs may eventually become highly degraded and beyond our ability to help,” Kittinger says. “But if we invest intensively now, we can help these areas join their healthiest and most vibrant peers.”
Jack Kittinger is the senior director of the Global Fisheries and Aquaculture Program in Conservation International’s Center for Oceans. Raul Quintana is a senior writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.
Cover image: A coral reef in Timor Leste (© Cristina Mittermeier/sealegacy)