The fate of coral reefs under climate change could improve if managementefforts take evolution and adaptation into account, according to aninternational study.

The University of Queensland’s Professor Peter Mumby was part of thepioneering Coral Reef Alliance study seeking ways to save the world’s reefs.

“Our research shows that by making smart decisions today, conservationmanagers can generate the conditions that can help corals adapt to risingtemperatures,” Professor Mumby said.

“Climate change is decimating coral reefs, but our study offers tools that maybe able to help these ecosystems.

“By facilitating evolution, conservation efforts can help corals adapt torising temperatures.”

Internationally, some groups have advocated protecting reefs in the coolestwaters, hoping that they’ll have longer to adapt, but the researchers foundprotecting diverse reef habitat types across a spectrum of ocean conditionswas key to helping corals adapt to climate change.

“Some reefs are naturally warmer than others and it’s important to designprotection so that corals can move freely between these areas as the oceancontinues to warm,” Professor Mumby said.

“Fortunately, the science to inform this has been underway for a few years onthe Great Barrier Reef.

“Together, a diversity of reef types act as stepping stones that give coralsthe best chance for adapting and moving as climate changes.”

The researchers also found that improving local conditions for reefs – byeffectively reducing local stressors such as overfishing and water pollution –was key.

But they found action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions remainedfundamentally important.

The world’s coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet,supporting the livelihoods of more than 500 million people and valued at over$530 billion.

“It’s time to act now – we’re losing our reefs – but a diversity of coraltypes and reduced local stressors can make an enormous difference in ensuringtheir survival,” Professor Mumby said.

The study was a collaborative program launched by The Coral Reef Alliance’s DrMadhavi Colton and Dr Michael Webster, co-authored at UQ and StanfordUniversity, partnering with the University of Washington’s Dr TimothyWalsworth, Professor Daniel Schindler and Professor Tim Essington, andAssociate Professor Malin Pinsky at Rutgers University.

The research was published in Nature Climate Change (DOI:10.1038/s41558-019-0518-5) and funded by the Gordon and Betty MooreFoundation.

Image above: We may be able to avoid coral bleaching events if we caneffectively manage our coral reefs, while enabling them to evolve with achanging climate. Credit: The Ocean Agency.

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