Within a few short decades, we are faced for the first time with losing an entire ecosystem on which we depend. Humanity’s pivotal challenge to save coral reefs will be a test of our will, ingenuity and ability to collaborate globally. If we succeed, we will not only save up to a million species that support up to a billion people, but we will have created the momentum and belief to save other ecosystems that are vital to the health of the planet. (No pressure!)
As a conservation NGO focused on coral-reef conservation, here at The Ocean Agency we’re certainly feeling the heat. This is not going to be an easy fight, and it’s certainly not one we can afford to lose.
Fortunately, there’s a growing excitement among the coral-reef community that’s inspiring us; the dark cloud that was the worst global coral die-off ever recorded, fortunately, had a silver lining. We lost about 50 percent of the corals on the Great Barrier Reef alone, but this unprecedented decline put reefs in the media spotlight. People were shocked by images of the destruction, and it’s lead to a level of support for action that we’ve never seen before.
Adding to public interest, oceans have finally arrived on the political agenda, with agreed goals for sustainable development that now need to be met. The combined attention from these occurrences is leading to a massive increase in funding — over 10-fold in the last five years alone.
When you look closely, there seems to be good news all over the place. We’re making breakthroughs in science, huge new protected areas are being announced, and new players are creating bold new global initiatives. No wonder there is a growing sense of optimism.
However, the news is not all good. The science tells us we’re committed to losing about 90 percent of the remaining coral reefs due to impacts of climate change, and the threats of pollution and overfishing are still on the rise. Will it be a case of too little too late?
The increase in support for reefs sounds impressive, but we must remember what these delicate ecosystems are really worth — the new level of funding still only represents less than 0.1 percent of the estimated economic value of coral reefs.
It is likely that the fight to save reefs will be won or lost in the next 10 years. It will all come down to two questions: Can we create enough climate-action momentum to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement? And, can we keep the momentum going for the funding and support for effective coral-reef conservation action?
Much will depend on whether we can keep them in the global spotlight. As reefs get a break from bleaching and storms, they face arguably an even bigger threat — media and public disinterest. It’s something we must not allow to take hold.
This is why 2018 is such a pivotally important year for coral reefs — it is the International Year of the Reef, an opportunity to keep them a focus of public attention. We need to make the most of these 12 months. To launch ideas. To keep the momentum going and to turn this year into a long-term mission. This is a global call for all to get involved.