“Maintaining the biological diversity, condition, resources, and values of coral reefs and related ecosystems is a matter of global urgency. While the majority of countries which have coral reefs are developing countries, there are many reefs in the waters of developed countries. This unites the developed and developing countries and should command the attention of the international community. Coral reef survival depends upon the world community acquiring and maintaining the knowledge and capacity to conserve and sustainably use coral reefs and related ecosystems. This requires that all uses and impact be brought within and maintained at levels which do not exceed these systems natural capacity for production and regeneration.”
– from the International Coral Reef Initiative Framework for Action
Reefs at Risk demonstrates that coral reefs around the world face threats from overfishing, coastal development, and other human activity. In most places these pressures will grow as economies develop and coastal populations swell. Despite these sobering trends, the news is not all bad. Careful planning and management can assure healthy reefs while meeting the needs of local people. Increased concern about, and interest in, coral reef issues is translating into action at local, national, and international levels to protect and conserve reef resources. Promising efforts are under way in many parts of the world.
The most important actions for promoting healthy coral reef ecosystems are taken at local and national levels. These depend on efforts by local governments, community groups, environmental organizations, the private sector, and others. Successful approaches are often based on cross-sectoral planning and management at a landscape scale to assure, for example, that agricultural policies within inland watersheds do not impact reef-dependent fisheries and tourism along the coast. Some of the actions that can best protect reefs are not directly linked to conservation. They range from building sewage and industrial waste treatment facilities to minimize pollution of coastal habitats to removing the host of subsidies and incentives – in the agricultural, forestry, development, fisheries, and other economic sectors – that result in degradation of water quality, direct destruction of reef habitats, and overexploitation of reef species.
For these approaches to work, legislation backed up by enforcement of these laws and regulations must be in place to protect reef resources. Restrictions alone will not work. Successful management approaches address the underlying causes of reef degradation by promoting economic development while protecting coral reef habitats. Examples include providing alternative livelihoods for people engaged in destructive activities through economic necessity, training fishers to use less destructive fishing methods, and regulating access and use of reef resources by establishing community ownership over reef fisheries and through other approaches. Environmental education plays an important role in building public support for better reef management.
One of the most effective approaches for combating threats to reefs is through a well-managed, representative marine protected area. Marine parks, sanctuaries, and reserves can protect reef ecosystems and species while generating tourism dollars and maintaining the vitality of nearby fisheries. The World Conservation Union has called on countries to protect 10 percent of all habitat types. However, with one or two exceptions (such as Australia), countries protect a far lower percentage of their coral reefs, and all have a long way to go in order to meet a recently proposed global target of protecting 20 percent of the oceans. Protection alone, however, cannot safeguard reefs from the sedimentation, pollution, and other threats that originate outside the boundaries of parks and reserves.
The International Coral Reef Initiative’s Framework for Action outlines the broad types of local and national efforts needed to assure the integrity of reef ecosystems. These include, but are not limited to:
- involving stakeholder groups at all levels of decision making;
- integrated coastal zone management;
- educating the public, policy-makers, and others about reef issues and how these habitats should be managed;
- strong environmental laws
- encouraging micro-enterprise development;
- promoting environmentall sound land use practices;
- cracking down on illegal fishing and promoting sustainable fisheries management;
- development disaster strategies to minimize threats to reefs when oil spills and unforeseen events occur; and
- development an effective network of marine protected areas.
If implemented, these steps would help ensure that reefs at risk today are maintained as helathy ecosystems in the future.
Around the world, governments and people are taking steps to conserve and restore coral reef ecosystems. Seven examples, most contributed by experts who helped us with the Reefs at Risk assessment, are profiled below.