Workshops on coral reef resilience and protection
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Workshops on coral reef resilience and protection

Coral reefs, although they cover less than 1 percent of the seafloor, provide shelter for more than 25 percent of marine life. Alarmingly, 50 percent of these important ecosystems have been lost in the past 30 years, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that 70 to 90 percent of the remaining corals could disappear by mid-century due to warming seas caused by anthropogenic climate change. Nevertheless, some coral reefs have shown resilience to warming seas, suggesting the potential for adaptation and survival.

Workshops on coral reef resilience and protection
Photos by David Gill, Duke University

The Red Sea is a notable region that demonstrates such resilience. Research by Karine Kleinhaus and Maoz Fine focused on thermotolerant corals in the region. However, threats from harmful fishing practices, tourism, oil spills, and land-based pollution, as well as geopolitical challenges, complicate conservation efforts.

In response to these challenges, a workshop was organised entitled: Resilience Plans, focused on coral reef resilience and conservation, was held at Stony Brook University from June 10 to 13. The workshop, supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant by co-investigators Anne McElroy, Toll Professor Emeritus in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), and Karine Kleinhaus, assistant professor at SoMAS, aimed to bring together diverse experts in coral reef science to identify and scale the best conservation interventions worldwide. John Bohorquez, assistant professor at SoMAS, organized the event.

In addition to inviting distinguished scientists and experts to participate, each participant was encouraged to bring a younger colleague or student to attend the workshop. This allowed young scientists to take advantage of the discussions and workshop opportunities to collaboratively come up with solutions to pressing global problems.

The event included presentations, open discussions, and action-planning sessions to prioritize threats and develop strategies to increase coral reef resilience. The workshop included researchers from Georgia Tech, Duke University, and the University of Washington, as well as international participants from Belize, Kenya, Israel, and Jordan. While the discussions were held at the Wang Center, the workshop also included a field trip to the New York Climate Exchange (for which Stony Brook serves as the lead institution) on Governors Island, where participants took part in a tour led by Kevin Reed, a professor at SoMAS and interim director of academic, research, and commercialization programs at the Climate Exchange.

Coral Reef Workshop, 3 participants, David Gill Duke U“The Gulf of Aqaba reef in the northern Red Sea is predicted to be one of the last major coral reefs to survive this century, as it continues to operate well below its thermal tolerance threshold,” Kleinhaus said. “However, conservation efforts are crucial to protect it from more local threats, and this Blueprints for Coral Resilience workshop explored specific priority actions that are needed for this reef and others around the world.”

Recognizing the complexity of coral reef ecosystems, which require balanced water chemistry and ecology and are interconnected with local human communities, the workshop adopted an interdisciplinary approach that conceptualized coral reefs and associated communities as a social-ecological system. Social-ecological systems mapping was used to explore threats, conservation interventions, and the interconnected relationships among environmental factors, stakeholders, and necessary actions. Facilitated discussions drew on prior research and participant knowledge to inform the mapping process.

Although inspired by the Red Sea research, the workshop took a global perspective on coral reef conservation and resilience, with the goal of generating effective, scalable solutions for these critical ecosystems. The group plans to submit one or more manuscripts on the workshop outcomes to help share the discussions and findings with a much broader audience.

—Beth Squire