Adaptive Reefscapes

Coral Conservation in Times of Change

Imagine the world without corals. Sand and rubble would replace the vibrant architects of the reef, like staghorn and table corals. The underwater homes of brightly colored parrotfish, butterflyfish and angelfish would be lost among overgrown seaweed. Livelihoods would diminish as coasts erode, fisheries fail and tourism declines.

The world needs coral reefs

Corals are extraordinary animals, and the reefs they build are some of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on the planet, providing:

  • Biodiversity: A quarter of all marine life depend on coral reefs for food, shelter and nurseries
  • Coastal protection: Coral reefs protect coastlines from wave action, erosion and tropical storms
  • Sand: When hard corals break down, sand is formed; every grain of carbonate sand on beaches used to be a living animal or plant
  • Economic benefits: Coral reefs provide goods and services like tourism and fishing at an estimated worth of $375 billion per year
  • Cultural and spiritual value: Coral reefs hold a sacred meaning for many island and coastal cultures, and inspire people with a sense of wonder and connectedness with nature

Coral reefs are under threat

Coral reefs around the world are at risk due to local-level threats like overfishing, water pollution and habitat destruction. Now, thanks to rising ocean temperatures, they also have to contend with global-level threats such as coral bleaching. Today, a startling 75 percent of our coral reefs are threatened, and 27 percent have already been lost. One-third of reef-building corals are considered at risk of extinction. Without decisive action, coral reefs and the communities that rely on them could be irreversibly affected.

Our Solution: Adaptive Reefscapes

There is hope. Scientific research shows that corals can adapt to changing conditions. CORAL is launching a new era of reef conservation that facilitates coral adaptation to a changing climate. Our innovative conservation blueprint promotes coral adaptation within DIVERSE, CONNECTED and LARGE networks of healthy reefs called Adaptive Reefscapes. The science tells us that when we conserve a diverse portfolio of coral reefs with differing species, variable environmental conditions and significant connectivity, we enable the necessary conditions for nature’s survivors to reveal themselves.

There is much more variation in coral response to climate change than one might think: some corals die during a bleaching event; some corals bleach and later recover; and some corals show signs of resistance to bleaching altogether. Sometimes corals surprise us by doing well in unexpected places like murky waters or warm-water lagoons. We can help these special corals survive, grow and spread their special genes to future generations by reducing local-level threats like overfishing and water pollution.

Why Coral Diversity Matters

Although they cover less than 0.1 percent of the earth’s surface, coral reefs are the most biodiverse marine ecosystems in the world. Coral reefs are diverse in the types of coral species that create the reef, diverse in the types of fishes and other species that live on them, diverse in the types of reef habitats that they build and even diverse at the genetic level. We safeguard DIVERSITY to preserve options for an unpredictable future. Learn more from our blog post.

Why Coral Connectivity Matters

Rapid adaptation requires a CONNECTED network of healthy reefs—such as a network of effectively managed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) or Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs)—to enable well-adapted corals to spread between different healthy reefs and repopulate degraded reefs. Learn more about why connectivity is important for the future of corals from our blog post.

Why Large Reefscapes Matter

Small networks of reefs are vulnerable to a single disturbance such as a storm or a disease outbreak. Connecting LARGE networks of healthy reefs protects reefscapes against losing everything all at once. The Mesoamerican Reefscape is an example of a reef network that is sufficiently large to promote coral adaptation. Learn about the importance of large reefscapes from our blog post.

Our Vision for Adaptive Reefscapes

CORAL aims to maximize our global impact by inspiring others to follow our Adaptive Reefscapes approach. With our many partners, we piloted our Adaptive Reefscape approach in the Mesoamerican Region (MAR). In addition to identifying key reefs where we can give corals a leg up by reducing local-level threats, we are simultaneously developing a mathematical model to identify attributes of reef networks that will maximize the adaptation potential of corals. By 2019, we estimate that Adaptive Reefscapes will be in progress in sixteen key coral reef regions. Success in these regions will provide a blueprint for coral reef conservation globally. Our goal is to ensure that at least 45 Adaptive Reefscapes are implemented by 2045 across the globe. This will only happen with support from like-minded organizations and individuals like you.

Key Partners

*Principal Investigators (PIs) are bolded. Within affiliations, researchers are listed in alphabetical order:

Rutgers University

  • Dan Forrest
  • Dr. Lisa McManus
  • Dr. Malin Pinsky

University of Washington

  • Dr. Tim Essington
  • Dr. Daniel Schindler
  • Dr. Tim Walsworth

University of Queensland

  • Dr. Pete Mumby

Stanford University

  • Dr. Steve Palumbi

The Nature Conservancy

  • Dr. F. Joseph Pollock
  • Dr. Luis Solorzano