Conservationists develop coral 'stress test' to identify reefs of hope in climate change era

Mar 22, 2011
A new "stress test" model developed by the Wildlife Conservation Society identifies the most diverse and hardy coral reefs in the western Indian Ocean as priorities for conservation and management. This "high priority" reef is located in the coastal area of south Tanzania. Credit: T. McClanahan/Wildlife Conservation Society

Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society have developed a "stress test" for coral reefs as a means of identifying and prioritizing areas that are most likely to survive bleaching events and other climate change factors. The researchers say that these "reefs of hope" are priorities for national and international management and conservation action.

The test is a model that looks at that stress corals – mainly from rising sea temperatures – and how these stresses affect overall coral and fish diversity. The results will help conservationists and managers identify reef systems most likely to survive over the next 50 years.

The study appears in the online edition of Global Change Biology. The authors include Tim R. McClanahan, Joseph M. Maina, and Nyawira A. Muthiga of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The model uses layers of historical data, satellite imagery, and field observations to produce a composite map on the status of reefs in the western Indian Ocean, in addition to an index of coral communities, their diversity, and their susceptibility to bleaching.

The study encompasses a wide swath of the western Indian Ocean, ranging from the Maldives to South Africa, an area already heavily impacted by bleaching events and coral mortality.

The model identified the coastal regions stretching from southern Kenya to northern Mozambique, northeastern Madagascar, the Mascarene Islands, and the coastal border of Mozambique and South Africa as having the most promising characteristics of high diversity and low environmental stress.

The authors say these biologically diverse and hardy reefs are therefore a priority for implementing management that will reduce human impacts and stresses, while alternative strategies for adaptation are necessary in areas with lower chances of long-term survival.

"The future is going to be more stressful for marine ecosystems, and coral and their dependent species top the list of animals that are going to feel the heat of climate warming," said Dr. McClanahan, the study's lead author and WCS Senior Conservationist. "The study provides us with hope and a map to identify conservation and management priorities where it is possible to buy some time for these important ecosystems until the carbon emissions problems have been solved."

The of the western Indian Ocean represent a significant portion of the overall biodiversity of tropical systems worldwide.

The western Indian Ocean also represents a crucial testing ground for management responses to climate-driven events such as coral bleaching. For instance, an estimated 45 percent of living coral was killed during 1998's warm temperature anomaly.

Caleb McClennen, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Marine Program, said: "Reducing human impacts to minimize the multiple stressors on these globally important reefs will give corals a fighting chance in the age of global . These results reveal a window of opportunity for the future conservation of the ocean's most biodiverse ecosystem."

Explore further: EPA staff says agency needs to be tough on smog

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study finds seasonal seas save corals with 'tough love'

Nov 29, 2007

Finally, some good news about the prospects of coral reefs in the age of climate change. According to a new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society, corals may actually survive rising ocean temperatures ...

New study predicts where corals can thrive

Apr 16, 2008

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the International Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth have developed a new scientific model that accurately maps where coral reefs are in the most trouble and identifies ...

'Super reefs' fend off climate change, study says

Apr 23, 2009

The Wildlife Conservation Society announced today a study showing that some coral reefs off East Africa are unusually resilient to climate change due to improved fisheries management and a combination of geophysical factors. ...

Recommended for you

Shell files new plan to drill in Arctic

Aug 29, 2014

Royal Dutch Shell has submitted a new plan for drilling in the Arctic offshore Alaska, more than one year after halting its program following several embarrassing mishaps.

Reducing water scarcity possible by 2050

Aug 29, 2014

Water scarcity is not a problem just for the developing world. In California, legislators are currently proposing a $7.5 billion emergency water plan to their voters; and U.S. federal officials last year ...

User comments : 0