coral reefs doomed?

Mark Spalding Mark.Spalding at
Sun Sep 9 09:32:09 EDT 2001

Just a few quick thoughts on this, because tommorrow and Tuesday I'm going to be facing quite a bit of national and international press regarding the launch of the World Atlas of Coral Reefs. I'm quite expecting a question such as "We heard last week that coral reefs will all be dead within 50 years and there's nothing we can do about it, so why should be bother trying?"

I think the answer is something like.

1 - this is a very extreme view, that is not to say impossible, but it lies at one end of a spectrum, while "no impact whatsoever lies at the other". The reality is somewhere in between

2 - We do not, therefore, give up while what we are talking about is still a remote chance.

3 - What can we do? Well perhaps we can ameliorate the impacts, for example by reducing the mix of other threats facing reefs. While this may not prevent coral death from bleaching, it seems highly likely that it would facilitate recovery. Detailed networks of protected areas may help, and more active management may become essential. For example, even the worst hit areas of the Indian Ocean showed very localised pockets of high survival. These may be critical for subsequent recovery of wider areas, and should be given high levels of protection following a bleaching event. Similarly overfishing of grazing fish may prevent coral settlement as algae grow up, so perhaps there are fisheries management controls we should consider.

4 - The jury is still out on the rates of adaptation of corals, given the timescales genetic adaptation may be out of the question (not completely), but there is also phenotypic plasticity. We need to watch, and to experiment.

If the doomsday scenario really starts to look likely there may still be more active management measures we could take, and research needs to think about these.




Mark Spalding, PhD
Senior Marine Ecologist                             
UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre
219 Huntingdon Road                                 Tel: +44 (0)1223 277314
Cambridge, CB3 0DL                                  Fax: +44 (0)1223 277136
UK                                    e-mail:mark.spalding at
Research Associate
Cambridge Coastal Research Unit
Department of Geography
Downing St

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