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Workshop Addresses Coral Reef Resilience and Conservation

Coral reef workshop 2 from david gill duke u

Coral reefs, despite covering less than 1 percent of the seafloor, support more than 25 percent of marine life. Alarmingly, 50 percent of these vital ecosystems have been lost in the past 30 years, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that 70-90 percent of the remaining corals could disappear by mid-century due to warming seas from anthropogenic climate change. Nevertheless, some coral reefs have demonstrated resilience to warming seas, suggesting potential for adaptation and survival.

Coral reef workshop 2 from david gill duke u
Photos by David Gill, Duke University

The Red Sea is a notable region showcasing such resilience. Research led by Karine Kleinhaus and Maoz Fine has focused on thermotolerant corals in this area. However, threats from harmful fishing practices, tourism, oil spills, and land-based pollution, along with geopolitical challenges, have hindered conservation efforts.

In response to these challenges, a workshop entitled Blueprints for Resilience, focusing on coral reef resilience and conservation, was held at Stony Brook University from June 10-13. Supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant authored by co-PIs Anne McElroy, emeritus Toll professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), and Karine Kleinhaus, adjunct associate professor in SoMAS, the workshop aimed to bring together diverse experts in coral reef science to identify and scale the best conservation interventions globally. John Bohorquez, research associate in SoMAS, organized the event.

In addition to inviting preeminent scholars and experts to participate, each participant was encouraged to bring a junior colleague or graduate student to attend the workshop, so that young scientists could benefit from the discussion and the power of the workshop to brainstorm solutions to vexing global issues.

The event featured presentations, open discussions, and action planning sessions to prioritize threats and develop strategies for enhancing coral reef resilience. Scholars from Georgia Tech, Duke University and the University of Washington, along with international participants from Belize, Kenya, Israel, and Jordan, attended the workshop. While discussions were based in the Wang Center, the workshop also featured a field trip to the New York Climate Exchange (for which Stony Brook serves as anchor institution) on Governors Island, where participants enjoyed a tour led by Kevin Reed, professor in SoMAS and interim director of Academic, Research, and Commercialization Programs at the Climate Exchange.

Coral reef workshop 3 participants by david gill duke u“The reef of the Gulf of Aqaba in the northern Red Sea is predicted to be among the last large coral reefs to survive this century because it still lives well below its thermal tolerance threshold,” said Kleinhaus. “Conservation actions are critical to protect it from more local threats, however, and this workshop on Blueprints for Coral Resilience explored concrete priority actions that are a must for this reef as well as others around the world.”

Recognizing the complexity of coral reef ecosystems, which require balanced water chemistry and ecology and are intertwined with local human communities, the workshop adopted an interdisciplinary approach that conceptualized coral reefs and associated communities as a social-ecological system. It utilized social-ecological systems mapping to survey threats, conservation interventions, and the interconnected relationships between environmental factors, stakeholders, and necessary actions. Facilitated discussions drew on previous research and participant expertise to inform the mapping process.

Although inspired by research in the Red Sea, the workshop adopted a global perspective on coral reef conservation and resilience, aiming to generate impactful, scalable solutions for these critical ecosystems. The group plans to submit one or more manuscripts on the outcomes of the workshop to help share the discussions and findings with a much broader audience.

— Beth Squire

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