Coral Reefs News UN Ocean Decade

Ocean: UNESCO launches emergency plan to boost World Heritage-listed reefs’ resilience

Brook Peterson | Ocean Image Bank

UNESCO World Heritage coral reefs cover over half a million km2 worldwide – the equivalent of the size of France – exhibiting exceptional biodiversity. They play a critical role in absorbing carbon emissions and protect coastlines from storms and erosion. Over a hundred indigenous communities are directly dependent on them for their subsistence. Moreover, they serve as reference points on the impacts of climate change affecting reefs everywhere.

But the scientific data concerning these coral reefs is now very alarming. Reefs are bleaching far more rapidly than the initial science suggested. These ‘bleached’ corals are highly vulnerable to starvation and disease and have an increasingly high mortality rate. This year, for the first time, mass coral bleaching also occurred in a traditionally cooler, La Niña period. Under the current emissions scenario, all World Heritage-listed reefs are at risk of disappearing by the end of this century.

Reducing local pressures to give reefs the best chance of survival

Warming ocean temperatures, due to global CO2 emissions, are the biggest threat to coral reefs globally. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) data confirms that States must drastically reduce carbon emissions to meet the targets under the Paris Agreement concluded in 2015. But most coral reefs also face a mix of local pressures, such as pollution, overfishing, or habitat destruction. UNESCO is mobilizing its resources and its partners to reduce local pressures and give coral reefs their best chance of survival in this rapidly changing environment.

Global warming means that local reef conservation practices are no longer enough to protect the world’s most important reef ecosystems. But a healthy, resilient reef can regenerate after a bleaching incident and survive.
Fanny Douvere – Head of Marine Program at the UNESCO World Heritage Centre

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