After more than 2 years spent observing and sampling a large part of the Pacific coral reefs, and comparing them on an unprecedented scale, our first inventory – neither exhaustive nor definitive – brings us to a first conclusion: coral has a resilience to climate change, provided it’s given time for adaptation or acclimatization.
There is still time. All the means of action are in our hands to preserve an ecosystem upon which more than 500 million people depend worldwide. For the coral ecosystem to cope with global warming, it’s imperative to reduce CO2 emissions within the next 5 years. In the very short term, it’s possible to put an end to devastating environmental policies and give the reefs time to rebuild and adapt. In order to adapt to the warming and recover from increasingly frequent bleaching episodes, the reefs must be preserved from local pressures.
1. IMPROVE WASTE MANAGEMENT, ESPECIALLY PLASTIC
Macro and micro-plastics serve as rafts for invasive species, viruses and bacteria that can induce pathologies in coral. Solutions to avoid plastic pollution at sea are actually found on land! Hence the need to limit single-use plastics, invent new materials more respectful of the oceans, and find ways to implement a circular economy. Better management of waste, especially plastic, is possible in the very short term.
© Eric Rottinger – Kahi Kai / Tara Expeditions Foundation
2. LIMIT THE IMPACT OF AGRICULTURE AND LIVESTOCK EFFLUENTS
Water discharged from livestock and farming but also from industry contains various organic or chemical components and pesticides harmful to the environment. Due to their toxicity and ability to disrupt terrestrial, marine and coral ecosystems, these effluents can disrupt the health of the lagoons and should be subject to heightened vigilance from politicians.
3. LIMIT DEFORESTATION AND STABILIZE SOIL
The impact of forestry activities on corals is far from negligible. The clearing of vast lands for cultivation favours water runoff, especially during periods of heavy rains.This runoff carries sediment into the ocean, covering reefs and reducing luminosity, vital for corals.
4. PROHIBIT OR LIMIT THE MOST DESTRUCTIVE FISHING METHODS
Trawling, dynamiting and using cyanide are fishing techniques highly destructive to the marine ecosystem. Although banned in some countries, others continue to use them today. Each explosion of dynamite can irreparably damage up to 20 meters of reefs.
Colony of Millepora platyphylla © Lauric Thiault / Tara Expeditions Foundation
5. TAKE CARE OF THE SHORELINES
Coastal and watershed management is becoming more and more important in improving the health of reefs. In the face of global population growth, the coasts are becoming increasingly developed: tourist complexes, industrial ports, bridges, seafront houses and dikes often completely destroy the reefs, some of which even serve as building materials. It is therefore crucial that environmental criteria be considered a priority in the development of major coastal infrastructures.
6. INVOLVING AND RAISING AWARENESS OF LOCAL POPULATIONS
It is crucial to educate young people, especially those who live on or near reefs and who depend on them in the first place, to protect their own environment.
Preserving corals against global warming goes hand in hand with reducing CO2 emissions in the next 5 years. But locally, in the very short term, it’s possible to put an end to destructive environmental policies and allow reefs time to rebuild and adapt. “Coral, because of its capacity for resistance, will always exist. What we’re seeing now is the transformation of reefs into structures less dominated by coral than by algae. This transformation will have consequences on the economies and even on the survival of certain island societies,” explains Serge Planes (CNRS), scientific director of Tara Pacific expedition.
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