Oceana's Global Effort to Save the Coral Reefs

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Text by Andy Sharpless for the Huffington Post


On a global scale, coral reefs face threats from climate change and the warmer oceans that result. When the symbiotic algae in tropical corals leave the animal – usually due to higher water temperatures – the bleached coral begins to starve. At the same time, increased carbon emissions have also led to ocean acidification. As the ocean’s pH level drops, corals Bhave a harder time building their skeletons.

But reefs also face destruction from localized threats. Destructive fishing gear, pollution, sedimentation, nutrient runoff and other water quality issues can all cause significant damage to corals. Deep sea corals can be demolished by bottom trawls. Cyanide fishing – used in the capture of aquarium fish – can poison reefs and the creatures that live there. And in some tropical areas, the overfishing of reef fish threatens the vitality of the broader ecosystem.

Saving coral reefs thus requires an "all of the above" approach that addresses both global and local threats; any strategy that takes action on one front while ignoring the other cannot succeed. Protecting a habitat from destructive fishing only to watch it cook in a warming ocean accomplishes little. And even if we stopped climate change and ocean acidification today, the work of one fisherman with a stick of dynamite could undo hundreds of years’ worth of coral growth in a matter of seconds.

Oceana is working to protect habitats, including coral, and has been since our founding in 2001. With the support of funders including Arcadia Fund and Bloomberg Philanthropies, we have won more than 45 policy victories that protect corals, establish or expand Marine Protected Areas in key locations, end destructive bottom trawling and more. And as part of the broader environmental community’s efforts to address climate change, Oceana has successfully opposed offshore oil exploration and development. Preventing offshore oil drilling and exploration protects coral reefs from the associated risks of pollution while combating the fossil fuel industry.


Oceana’s victories have helped protect corals around the world:

• In the Philippines, we fought for improved law enforcement in the Tañon Strait – home to 65 percent of all the coral species in that country – and campaigned successfully for a new marine protected area in Benham Bank, an undersea region east of Luzon that is home to vast mesophotic (“twilight”) reefs.

• In Belize, we protected the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef by ending bottom trawling in that country’s waters and winning a moratorium on offshore oil exploration.

• In the United States, we protected more than 140,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean off Washington, Oregon and California from destructive bottom trawling, including recently documented coral gardens and rocky reefs off Southern California. All told, we have protected more than 9 million square kilometers of ocean, from the Tañon Strait in the Philippines to Gorringe Bank in Portugal to Salas y Gomez in Chile. Coral reefs are vital to protecting ocean biodiversity. They support a wider variety of wildlife than any other marine environment. Scientists have estimated that as many as 8 million new species may remain to be discovered in these incredible habitats. These are places worth fighting for, and a comprehensive strategy can still address the global and local threats to their survival.

Andy Sharpless, Contributor Oceana CEO in Huffington Post 5/10/2017