In her opening address here at the International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Cairns, Australia, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchencho said: “The world, its coral reefs and the millions of people who depend on them need more bold action.”
Indeed, “bold action” is the buzz phrase here at the world’s largest coral reef conference, which is held every four years and has brought together over 2,000 coral reef scientists and managers to highlight the critical importance of reefs and their increasingly threatened state.
The major highlight so far at the conference has been the release of a report by the World Resources Institute, which stated that 85 percent of reefs in the Coral Triangle are at risk from local stressors, including overfishing and coastal development. Compared to a global average of 60 percent, this is worrying news indeed.
The Coral Triangle is a region of the Pacific encompassing the tropical waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste. Like many other areas of the tropics, it is critically important for food security. Fish is the primary source of protein for 120 million people in the region, and coral reefs are fundamental to providing that fish.
Through our programs in four of the six Coral Triangle countries, as well as around the world, CI is providing the bold action we need. Working collaboratively with partners throughout the Coral Triangle, CI is working with local and national governments to identify critically important areas in need of protection. Through a multitude of approaches, we have so far assisted in the protection of roughly 5 million hectares (more than 12 million acres) of protected areas, as well as helping governments manage their own resources for the benefit of their own people.
Considered one of the most courageous moves of the conference, organizers released the Consensus on Climate Change and Coral Reefs signed by over 2,600 scientists, raising the profile and urgency of addressing climate change impacts on the marine environment. Climate change and its “evil twin” ocean acidification have been major topics at the 2012 ICRS.
CI initiatives have been highlighted throughout the conference by staff and partners alike, including this morning’s plenary session, in which the emerging Bali marine protected area network exemplifies efforts to manage resources for both biodiversity and human well-being benefits.
The conference has one more day to run here, but one thing is for sure: the work of more than 2,000 scientists and managers will continue, and their voices will only get louder on behalf of the coral reefs and the people who depend on them.
Leah Bunce Karrer is the senior director of CI’s Marine Science program. Thanks to Frazer McGilvray, Keith Lawrence, Laure Katz and the rest of the CI team at the 2012 ICRS for their help with this post.