How Coral Reefs Can Thrive in the Anthropocene
It is no secret that coral reefs are facing dangers as never before. Just this past year, the Great Coral Reef experienced the worst bleaching event ever, and overall coral growth worldwide is down by 40% since the 1970s. So what can be done to stabilize and even encourage growth?
According to Professor Joshua Cinner, the answer is, surprisingly, not total isolation or humans abstaining from visiting the reefs. The reefs that he studied that seemed to be the healthiest and doing better that they should be under the circumstances were all quite popular with people. They were well-fished and experienced lots of human activity. The difference is that the reefs were well-managed and appropriately fished.
The local populations all had a vested interest in maintaining and caring for the reefs. In fact, some villages even had their own portions of the reef claimed that were off-limits to other neighboring villages. The villagers rotated fishing in areas of the reef to maintain sustainability.
“Reefs are hugely threatened. I saw my own field site melt down and completely die,” says Julia Baum from the University of Victoria. “The danger is that we lose hope, or we feel like there’s nothing to be done. That’s why this study is so important. It shows that the end state of people relying on and using coral reefs doesn’t have to be reef degradation.”
“It’s really nice when you can shine a powerful analytical light on what’s going well,” says Nancy Knowlton, a self-described ocean optimist based at the Smithsonian Institution. “We want to start talking about things that are going well in conservation.”
As with most things on this planet, it seems that conservation is the key and that overcrowding or over-utilizing any one thing is detrimental to the subject at hand. This is a story that Professor Cinner knows all too well.