[Coral-List] 50 reefs initiative

HARDCASTLE James James.HARDCASTLE at iucn.org
Tue Feb 28 16:04:06 EST 2017

Thanks for this thread. Quick (late) thoughts:

I am drawn to a '50 reefs' initiative by the title and clarion call - it is conceivable, manageable, and has a clear target. It seeks to raise a standard for the survival of our global reef system.

However, what it will not answer, is how to secure commitments from government and partners to then conserve these 50 reefs. The current initiative framing is clear about identifying the 50 reefs, but less clear about what needs to happen after that.

Combining this call with a campaign to secure political will and global leadership would help energize action for conservation.

These commitments could also include reefs outside the global 50, but where clear will and investment is available and can be channelled. Not all funds are global, and any initiative that can encourage better mobilisation of resources locally would be a win.

Additionally, the 50RI should also seek better global policy and practice to reduce the root causes of reef degradation.

I agree with John Artim below - this should not just be linked to the science, but also to traditional and local ecological knowledge - such as the approaches in Solomon Islands (Rick Hamilton, Jimmy Kereseka and others). Ultimately, it should be about reef management, and for that we need a campaign that will bring people together.

IUCN's Green List standard could be applied to each of the 50 reef areas (plus other voluntary 50+ commitments). This scheme could help in place clear targets for successful, fair management efforts, that achieve a desired conservation outcome. In this way, progress can be measured, evaluated, and redirected - and science can continue to inform the conservation status of these 50 + reefs.

- James

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov [mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of John Artim
Sent: 27 February 2017 18:59
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] 50 reefs initiative

I, too, am an (extremely) early-career coral reef ecologist. I think Alexander Fordyce has done a superb job of framing the issue. I would like to add that the "50 Reefs" proposal is a "bet-the-farm" initiative.
As such I would expect an extremely high bar for the evidence required to support "50 Reefs" as an exclusive approach. It seems to me, judging just by the Twitter traffic among coral reef folks this past weekend, that as a community we are no where near the 95% level of agreement we would need to feel comfortable with this as an exclusive strategy to preserve coral reefs.

Implicit in "50 Reefs" is the assumption that we know enough about the functioning of coral reef communities that we can accurately choose the 10% of reefs that we can nurse through the difficult transition ahead.
At ICRS this past summer Nancy Knowlton made the point that as a research community we have invested little in understanding the community roles of small cryptic invertebrates. Peter Mumby made the point that most research has taken place on either pristine or highly-degraded reef. Until we have identified key invertebrate functional groups and have indices of reef community function reflecting them, I suspect our understanding of what is a functioning but degraded coral reef community is deficient. When one is proposing to choose winners and losers-that is, whose coral reefs are worth continued effort to save-this becomes of more than just academic interest.

We also have to consider that if we as a community of researchers are going to support "50 reefs", we need a very good story concerning what happens to the other stakeholders worldwide who are in some way tied to coral reef communities. This includes many indigenous peoples who rely on coral reefs for subsistence fishing and gleaning. Even if you would argue that we have enough knowledge of coral reef community function to choose which are the 10% of reefs we will save, there are many other stakeholders that have a right to be a part of the discussion before that decision can be finalized. I think it's premature to write off the other 90% when so many people are dependent on these reefs. In fact, we are but one stakeholder on this issue and though we should take positions on policy issues like this one, we should not advocate decision processes that fail to give other stakeholders adequate time to respond.

Finally, I would like to point out that some of what would become the 90% reefs are the focus of current study today and rightly so.
Undoubtedly as we attempt to address Peter Mumby's questions concerning reefs in intermediate states we may discover that some, perhaps even all of those reefs may not be savable. But for now, we are getting valuable insights into community function from these sites. Does that imply some sort of transition period is needed? Or is the situation so dire that we really do have no choice but to shift all resources and effort towards the 10% of reefs we can save?

So, as a neophyte coral reef ecologist, I believe that the "50 Reefs"
initiative is an important proposal that underscores just how desperate a situation humanity has gotten itself into. At the same time, I really don't think our state-of-knowledge is such that we can take a single approach to researching and conserving this vital ecosystem. While vigorous pursuit of "50 Reefs" may well be our best way forward, I don't see enough evidence to support it as the exclusive way forward. But I readily admit that when it comes to coral reefs, I am more ignorance than I am enlightenment and have not had enough time with the specifics of the "50 Reefs" proposal. I look forward to all of the responses on this critical topic.

-John Artim

On 2/27/17 11:00 AM, coral-list-request at coral.aoml.noaa.gov wrote:
> Subject: [Coral-List] 50 reefs initiative
> To:coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> Message-ID:
>       <CAN_vqssoMcz3L77zchWwCq=UJaJ=3uqpEkw-R=sG-EDZ3sMu=w at mail.gmail.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8
> Hey everyone,
> I'm in the infancy of my science career and so susceptible to being
> pulled in several directions by well argued and opposing opinions.
> Thanks to the coral-list admin, Jim, for encouraging us amateurs to speak up!
> Just wanted to try and start a conversation about the recently
> launched 50 reefs initiative, that aims to preserve at least 10% of
> the world's coral reefs for future generations. My hope is that your
> collective wealth of opinions makes for some good brain food!
> Some of my thoughts: I think it shows realism given the long term
> trend of non-stop reef decline. I also think that those surviving
> reefs hold the key to understanding how we can positively intervene
> with minimal ecological impact outside of our goal (e.g. Through
> assisted evolution, translocation, ecological engineering). It's good
> to see large, private companies backing global conservation goals;
> they're a powerful entity and one that, if guided by solid science,
> have the potential to exert considerable influence. I would hesitate
> to say that governments, rather than individual companies, have more
> to answer for when it comes to the inaction around global reef conservation.
> BUT, it seems rather pessimistic and I fear sets a goal that leaves
> ample room for complacency when in fact we need urgency. Coral reefs
> have always surprised us in the past, from rapid recovery and
> evolution to the mere existence of corals in the toasty waters of the
> Arabian Sea. I think that the most pristine can be identified and
> research channeled towards them; but let's do it with a view of
> learning lessons that we can use to save those less fortunate to hold the status of pristine.
> Whenever I hear about triaging, I am reminded of the story of the
> Mauritius Kestrel and the valiant effort of Carl Jones who brought the
> species back from the brink of extinction, one breeding pair to over
> fifty in the space of twenty years. Of course one is a species, the
> other is an ecosystem. But optimism need not be lost just yet!
> Looking forward to hearing all your thoughts,
> Cheers
> Alexander Fordyce

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