Map highlights world’s most threatened coral reefs25/08/2011 10:25:38
Pinpoints places to focus conservation management
August 2011: A map of the world's corals and their exposure to stress factors, including high temperatures, ultra-violet radiation, weather systems, sedimentation, as well as stress-reducing factors such as temperature variability and tidal dynamics has been created by Wildlife Conservation Society researchers and other marine scientists.
The study, say its authors, will help to conserve some of the world's most important coral reefs by identifying reef systems where biodiversity is high and stress is low - in other words, the ecosystems where management has the best chance of success.
The world's coral reefs are under pressure
Using a wide array of publicly available data sets from satellites and a branch of mathematics known as fuzzy logic, which can handle incomplete data on coral physiology and coral-environment interactions, the researchers grouped the world's tropical coral reef systems into clusters based on the sum of their stress exposure grades and the factors that reinforce and reduce these stresses.
South East Asia is a ‘high-stress' area
The second cluster - including the Caribbean, Great Barrier Reef, Central Pacific, Polynesia, and the Western Indian Ocean - contained regions with moderate to high rates of exposure as well as high rates of reducing factors, such as large tides and temperature variability.
Overall, stress factors such as surface temperature and ultraviolet radiation were the most significant factors - ones that ecosystem management has no control over. What is controllable is the mitigation of human impacts that reinforce radiation stress and where managers decide to locate their protected areas.
Reefs have little chance of surviving climate change
The authors recommend that the study results be used to formulate management strategies that would include activities such as fishing restrictions, the management of watersheds through improved agricultural practices, and reforestation of coastal watersheds that play a role in healthy coral systems.
‘The study provides marine park and ecosystem managers with a plan for spatially managing the effectiveness of conservation and sustainability,' said Dr Caleb McClennen, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's marine programme. ‘The information will help formulate more effective strategies to protect corals from climate change and lead to improved management of reef systems globally.'