Last week some 3000 coral reef scientists, including the world’s foremost leaders in all aspects of coral reef ecosystems, met in Honolulu to discuss the fate of coral reefs. The goal of this convention, which is held every four years, was to focus on positive action towards improving reef ecosystems. Unfortunately, when studying coral reefs it is difficult to be optimistic. We are in the midst of the largest and most prolonged coral bleaching event in known history. Coral are threatened from myriad stressors and despite any single presenter’s intent, relaying the story of almost any coral reef ecosystem across the globe has some element (if not all) of demise.
But by the end of the meeting there was a consensus, and one that appeared to be unanimously agreed upon by all: carbon emissions are by far the most pressing issue. Overfishing and nutrient pollution are clearly problematic for reefs, and mitigation of these stressors has been shown to be highly successful. But mitigation of these stressors only saves time (some say a decade). The real culprit of the fundamental demise of coral reefs is carbon in the atmosphere – which leads to more variable temperatures (higher highs and lower lows) and ocean acidification. If we want our next generation to ever see a coral reef, in any state, carbon emissions have to be halted and reversed.