Marine scientists’ letter in the journal Science urges preservation of one of the last coral refuges from climate change
STONY BROOK, NY, November 10, 2022 – An international group of marine scientists led by Karine Kleinhaus, of Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), has published a letter in Science that is a call to action for policy makers, government agencies and ocean conservation groups to take major steps to preserve Egypt’s 1800 km of coral reefs – a massive section of the Red Sea’s reef system. Egypt’s reefs generate billions of dollars annually from tourism and tourism-related commerce.
The reefs of the northern Red Sea are especially valuable as they constitute one of the world’s few marine refuges from climate change. Almost the entire western coastline of this refuge lies within Egypt. Although these reefs can tolerate the rising sea temperatures that are decimating reefs elsewhere, they face severe local threats including unsustainable tourism and fishing, coastal development, sewage discharge, and desalination plant discharge. Local threat reduction and sustainable management of these reefs is needed to maintain their value.
The Letter states that the “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that 70 to 90 percent of warm water reefs will disappear this century even if warming is constrained to 1.5 degrees C. But the corals of the northern Red Sea are thermally resilient and likely to survive IPCC warming predictions.”
The authors, which include SoMAS Professor Ellen Pikitch, and Research Associate John Bohorquez, point out that “Fringing reefs are of high cultural and economic importance, (and) Egypt has the most valuable coral reef tourism economy in the world, contributing two percent of its GDP. The reefs could benefit from an expanded and fortified marine protected area network.”
Kleinhaus, who specializes in coral reef research and preservation as an Associate Research Professor at SoMAS, explains that the world’s coral reefs are like the canary in the coal mine for climate change. Their decimation globally serves as an indication of climate change affecting ocean temperatures and the balance of life in the ocean, the health of all its creatures, and in turn, human health.
The letter is being published during the COP27 Conference, held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, from November 6 to 18. The conference will have multiple sessions on coral reefs and is being held right alongside Egypt’s valuable reef system. .
The authors believe the time is now to preserve Egypt’s coral reefs, and they believe a committed international coalition can “advance a shared commitment to conserve one of the few coral reef refuges from climate change.”
Kleinhaus stresses that there are many reasons to make great efforts to preserve, restore and ultimately conserve our world’s coral reefs. The top reasons: over half a billion people globally depend on coral reef ecosystems for food and income from tourism and fisheries; an estimated 25 percent of all marine species depend on coral reefs during some portion of their lifecycle; and the impending loss of coral reefs threatens the health and socio-economic well-being of hundreds of millions of people and disrupts multiple marine ecosystems.