An Eden Beneath the Waves – A critical time for coral reefs

International Coral Reef Symposium 2012 – Cairns, Australia – Thoughts from Day 1

It’s an event that only occurs once every four years. The world’s coral reef experts gather to discuss the latest developments in reef science, management and preservation. This year’s event is being hosted in Cairns, Australia, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.

With some of the world’s most spectacular reefs located just offshore of the conference location, the motivation for the coral reef community to work together in preserving this valuable natural resource is an imminent reality. The conference delegates are reminded of this imperative in the opening plenary session by Dr. Jane Lubchenco, head NOAA Administrator, who asserts that in the past decade the threats to coral reefs have grown from worrisome to dire.

Jane Lubchenco

Dr. Jane Lubchenco addresses the ICRS 2012 delegates.

Coral reefs are periodically stressed by natural cycles in weather patterns and environmental conditions, and become threatened when this natural stress level is amplified and augmented by human disturbances. Such threats originate from overdevelopment of coastal areas, pollution and sediment runoff onto reefs, bleaching from elevated sea surface temperatures, and increasing ocean acidification, to name a few. As a result, scientists predict that without action coral reefs will continue to rapidly decline in the coming decades. However, all is not without hope. Coral reef scientists and managers are actively engaged in projects throughout the world to preserve and protect this irreplaceable ecosystem, and there are many promising examples of successful projects making a positive impact on coral reef health. Dr. Lubchenco demonstrates that these “examples provide a sense of hope – and window to the way forward.”

The parting thought from traditional elder Seith Fourmile during his opening address provides an apt reminder of the importance of the work being conducted by the ICRS delegates: “there is only one planet – the planet doesn’t need us, but we need the planet.”

It is only through collaboration that coral reef conservation can be effective. Scientists and managers need to work together towards common goals, while at the same time speaking a language understood by the entire community.

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