The reefs of the world are at risk, and are especially vulnerable to the rapidly emerging stress brought on by climate change
Barcelona, Spain (Vocus) October 8, 2008
The increase in global carbon dioxide emissions is not just damaging the Earth's climate, but also threatening the very fabric of our oceans. Today, The Nature Conservancy, along with the support of a dozen of the world's top marine scientists, presented key findings and recommendations to tackle ocean acidification in the "Honolulu Declaration on Ocean Acidification and Reef Management," which was first introduced to the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force meeting in Kona, Hawai'i in late August, and presented today to delegates attending the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain.
"Coral reefs are at the heart of our tropics, and millions of people around the world depend on these systems for their livelihoods. Without urgent action to limit carbon dioxide emissions and improve management of marine protected areas, even vast treasured reefs like the Great Barrier Reef and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands will become wastelands of dead coral," said Lynne Hale, director of The Nature Conservancy's Marine Initiative.
Ocean acidification is the change in ocean chemistry driven by the absorption of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other chemical compounds released into the atmosphere. The ocean absorbs approximately one-third of the CO2 in the atmosphere, which then combines with seawater to form carbonic acid that lowers the pH of the oceans and disrupts marine ecosystems and species.
In July 2008, scientists at the International Coral Reef Symposium in Florida declared acidification as the largest and most significant threat that oceans face today and conveyed that coral reefs will be unable to survive the projected increases in ocean acidification, leading to potentially massive coral loss that would cause severe declines in the abundance and diversity of fish and other marine species and damage the global economies dependent on ocean health and productivity.
In fact, current estimates show that we could lose all coral reefs by the end of the century - or, in the worst case scenario, possibly decades sooner.
"The reefs of the world are at risk, and are especially vulnerable to the rapidly emerging stress brought on by climate change," said Paul Marshall, Climate Change Program manager of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. "Recognizing the potential irreversibility of ocean acidification impacts, it has never been more imperative to improve the management and adaptability of coral reef ecosystems."
Responding to this challenge, the Conservancy convened a group of leading climate and marine scientists and coral reef managers from around the globe in early August of this year for a workshop in Honolulu to chart a course of action to address ocean acidification.
Hale and Marshall noted that this landmark "meeting of minds" created a solid foundation for a new era of coral reef conservation, and that action steps proposed by the group, if enacted, will help to save coral reefs from escalating destruction. Two major strategies emerged as the backbone of the Declaration resulting from the workshop:
- Limit fossil fuel emissions - stabilization of atmospheric CO2 is the most logical step to address ocean acidification impacts; and
- Build the resilience of tropical marine ecosystems and communities to maximize their ability to resist and recover from climate change impacts, including ocean acidification.
The Honolulu Declaration outlines tangible steps that can be taken to increase the survival of coral reefs in an acidifying ocean, while also working to limit CO2 emissions and prevent further acidification. For example:
- Stabilize CO2 emissions and reduce marine pollution across multiple channels;
- Mandate the inclusion of climate change actions into marine protected area management plans;
- Increase appropriations to improve the science and actions addressing ocean acidification impacts on coral reefs;
- Reduce all stresses on coral reefs as much as possible to enhance their health and resilience;
- Protect reefs that are less vulnerable to the impacts of ocean acidification by creating new marine protected areas and through zoning plans in existing ones;
- Develop, test and implement innovative interventions to reduce damage to weakened reefs and replenish species loss caused by ocean acidification; and
- Develop a collaborative international program on ocean acidification that includes a coordinated network of monitoring stations.
In addition to today's unveiling of the Declaration in Barcelona, the group plans to present the Declaration to the United Nations and other global, regional and national forums to obtain high-level government commitments to address the acidification challenge, and to marine managers and practitioners to begin more effectively managing our oceans for the threat of acidification. The Conservancy will also approach its local and regional partners to find support and seek ways to collaboratively implement policy and management activities recommended by the group.
The signees of the Honolulu Declaration:
- Ken Anthony, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Marine Studies, University of Queensland
- Billy Causey, Southeast Regional Director for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
- Richard Feely, Senior Scientist and Supervisory Chemical Oceanographer at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory of NOAA
- John Guinotte, marine Biogeographer at the Marine Conservation Biology Institute
- Gretchen Hoffman, an associate professor of ecological physiology of marine organisms at the University of California, Santa Barbara
- Jennie Hoffman, marine biologist and professor at the Ocean Research College Academy in Everett, Washington, and World Wildlife Fund consultant
- Paul Jokiel, Researcher at the University of Hawai'i, Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology
- Joan Kleypas, Scientist, Institute for the Study of Society and Environment at the National Center for Atmospheric Research
- Paul Marshall, Climate Change Program manager of Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
- Rod Salm, Director of Tropical Marine Conservation for The Nature Conservancy, Asia-Pacific Region (along with Elizabeth McLeod, Climate Adaptation Scientist for The Nature Conservancy, Asia-Pacific Region; Eric Conklin, Marine Science Advisor for the Hawai'i Marine Program, The Nature Conservancy; and Annick Cros, Program Coordinator for The Nature Conservancy's Asia-Pacific Region)
- J. Charlie Veron, Chief Scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the world's foremost expert on coral reefs
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 18 million acres in the United States and have helped preserve more than 117 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at http://www.nature.org.
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