[Coral-List] Call to Action Re: New paper on coral bleaching in Science

Sarah Frias-Torres sfrias_torres at hotmail.com
Wed Jan 10 12:48:19 EST 2018


yes, we must take care of local stressors before attempting coral reef restoration, while at the same time, continue our global efforts to drastically reduce and eliminate burning fossil fuels.

In fact, the basic principles of ecological restoration (not just for coral reefs, but for any ecosystem) have the focus on eliminating local stressors as a priority (Suding et al. 2015).

So the goal of ecological restoration becomes to jump-start the system, once local stressors have been eliminated, in case the system cannot recover by itself. For example, in the work I led in Seychelles, inside a no-take marine reserve, the coral reef had not recovered 14 years after the 1998 mass bleaching event. After large-scale coral reef restoration, the restored reef was capable of recruiting new corals, not just from species we had outplanted but also from species we had not ouplanted. This seems to indicate that the site was so far gone, it was incapable of recruiting new coral until the restoration action happened (Montoya-Maya et al 2016).

Now, coral reef restoration by coral gardening also allows the grow out of species with symbiont clades that are more tolerant to high temperatures. This is an active area of work now, and of course, it has its own tradeoffs. Also, the focus should be on multi-species restoration and moving to large-scale as I asked in my original email.

As for the Florida Keys reef tract, the recent study from McClenachan et al.. (2017) based on 240-year-old nautical charts, shows extensive decline of live coral in nearshore reefs. The system is dramatically changed while local stressors continue. Coral reef restoration is very challenging in such system, and I agree with you that we have to be clear on what we can achieve now, but also what we can achieve in the next 5 to 10 years, because the field of coral reef restoration is rapidly evolving.

This connects with the need to continue improving our science communication.. From my own experience, I have seen a shift on people who depend on the coral reefs for their livelihood , but were not aware how delicate the coral reefs are. When explaining our efforts to restore the reef, I have seen these same people do a full 180 and start caring for the coral reef. Maybe that is one of the key issues here, have people involved in the process, so they start caring.

I just briefly answered some of your concerns, but I hope this is an ongoing conversation.

Literature Cited:

McClenachan et al (2017) Ghost reefs: Nautical charts document large spatial scale of coral reef loss over 240 years.

Science Advances 3 (9): e1603155

Montoya-Maya et al (2016). Large-scale coral reef restoration could assist natural recovery in Seychelles, Indian Ocean. Nature Conservation 16: 1-17.

Suding et al (2015) Committing to ecological restoration. Science 348: 638-640

Sarah Frias-Torres, PhD

Twitter: @GrouperDoc
Science Blog: https://grouperluna.com/
Art Blog: https://oceanbestiary.com/

From: Cummings, Katy <Katy.Cummings at MyFWC.com>
Sent: Wednesday, January 10, 2018 11:26 AM
To: Sarah Frias-Torres; Mark Eakin - NOAA Federal; Coral Listserver
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Call to Action Re: New paper on coral bleaching in Science

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for the call to arms! I am a supporter of coral reef restoration, but don't see how putting coral restoration first is the solution here. The first step in restoring an ecosystem is to remove the stressors - which we haven't done for coral reefs. How can we 'restore' a reef in a degraded environment that is no longer conducive to them? You are right in saying we need to stop burning fossil fuels at the rate we do (and stop pollution, coastal development, restore herbivore populations, etc. etc. etc) - and those are the things we need to do first before moving on to restoration. There have been few studies looking at the long-term success of outplanting projects, but with all the tens of thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands?) of corals outplanted on to the Florida Reef Tract in the past couple decades I would expect to see the reef recovering... it is not. Most of the Acropora I've seen planted just become damselfish nests in a few years. And even if these outplanted corals spawn, they're not successfully recruiting to the reef.

I am more hopeful about all the work being done to select for phenotypes that are more resistant to certain stressors. But if we still have a recruitment problem, I fear we're going to end up having to continually replant the reef until (if?) we solve the overarching problems.

On that note, I've also spoken to quite a few people down in the Keys about the status of Florida's coral. Many of them thought the reefs were doing great because of all the restoration happening on them. That's a pretty dangerous outlook - it lets people think we have solved the problem and they don't need to change anything about their own lives or be more active in speaking up on behalf of the reef. I know there's a balance between making people feel hopeful about the future and not depressing them to the point where they feel like it's hopeless to act further, but restoration needs to be clearer to the public about what it can and can not do. I feel that all restoration is doing at this point is maybe buying the reef some time so that we can solve the actual problems. Is that correct? Or are we trying to selectively breed coral to create a reef that is resilient in the face of everything humans throw at them?

Those are my concerns and questions about restoration, and I look forward to seeing responses!  As far as best strategies, I almost feel like it would be better to drastically improve our science communication to the public. I think there are still far too many people out there who either don't know the issue exists (or think the reefs are doing well), don't know what they can do, or know what they can do but think it's hopeless anyways so why bother acting. If we can get a lot of the public on our side, we have their power as consumers and voters to help us in begging the legislature to listen to our science.

Thank you,


From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov <coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml..noaa.gov> on behalf of Sarah Frias-Torres <sfrias_torres at hotmail.com>
Sent: Tuesday, January 9, 2018 11:08 AM
To: Mark Eakin - NOAA Federal; Coral Listserver
Subject: [Coral-List] Call to Action Re: New paper on coral bleaching in Science

As Pogo says, "We have met the enemy, and he is us"

The recent Science paper (Hughes et al 2018; http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6371/80<https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fscience.sciencemag.org%2Fcontent%2F359%2F6371%2F80&data=02%7C01%7C%7C1579131eb5794df88ef908d55846f5dd%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636511984155146510&sdata=mqHpQohM2wH6S1tv1BU6eBxbaHa3t4O9NsQa2sikQoM%3D&reserved=0>) shows a bleak global picture for coral reefs. We must stop burning fossil fuels if we want a future for coral reefs as we know them.

At this crossroads, we can either give up or keep fighting.

I choose to fight.

This is a Call to Action to those who still want to fight, against all odds, so coral reefs will have a future.

We have many strategies on the table. It's uncertain which strategy is going to work.

>From the angle of coral reef restoration, I call on the restoration community to work together, to share failures and successes and move towards large-scale restoration.

To the critics of coral reef restoration, I ask you to work with us. Don't just say: "this won't work". Give us constructive criticism, share your concerns with us. Is it a failure of the scientific process (validity of hypothesis testing) or is it an engineering concern (bringing the process to scale)?. The solution is very different in each case.

For everyone on this list, let's find ways to work together, from science to implementation, to communication, to everything in between.

It's all hands on deck now.

Sarah Frias-Torres, PhD

Twitter: @GrouperDoc
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From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov <coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml...noaa.gov> on behalf of Mark Eakin - NOAA Federal <mark.eakin at noaa.gov>
Sent: Friday, January 5, 2018 12:07 PM
To: Coral Listserver
Subject: [Coral-List] New paper on coral bleaching in Science

For the first time, an international team of researchers has measured the
escalating rate of coral bleaching at locations throughout the tropics over
the past four decades. The study documents a dramatic shortening of the gap
between pairs of bleaching events, threatening the future existence of
these iconic ecosystems and the livelihoods of many millions of people.

"The time between bleaching events at each location has diminished
five-fold in the past 3-4 decades, from once every 25-30 years in the early
1980s to an average of just once every six years since 2010," says lead author
Prof Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef
Studies (Coral CoE).

“Reefs have entered a distinctive human-dominated era – the Anthropocene,”
said co-author, Dr C. Mark Eakin of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric
Administration, USA. "The climate has warmed rapidly in the past 50 years,
first making El Niños dangerous for corals, and now we're seeing the
emergence of bleaching in every hot summer."
For more, see the full paper at:

C. Mark Eakin, Ph.D.
Coordinator, NOAA Coral Reef Watch
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Center for Satellite Applications and Research
Satellite Oceanography & Climate Division
e-mail: mark.eakin at noaa.gov
url: coralreefwatch.noaa.gov
Twitter: @CoralReefWatch FB: Coral Reef Watch

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“You would have to reject the “greenhouse effect” outright to conclude that
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June 18 2014
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