A World with Corals: What Will It Take?

Science  05 Oct 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5847, pp. 42b
DOI: 10.1126/science.318.5847.42b

If the article “A world without corals?” (News Focus, R. Stone, 4 May, p. 678) left you reaching for a stiff drink, you are not alone. The measures required to limit climate change can seem an eternity away to coastal communities left to deal with the consequences. Yet, since the 1997–98 mass bleaching—an unforgiving global event that destroyed 16% of the world's coral reefs—practitioners and scientists have worked to identify meaningful actions that can promote reef survival in the face of climate change.

We believe it is more useful to ask, “What would it take to have a world with corals?” In this respect, the community responsible for the sustainable management of reefs has recently produced a series of consensus viewpoints (13). The emerging agenda stresses the need for a two-pronged approach: (i) global actions to reduce climate change and (ii) local actions to support ecosystem resilience.


The challenge of achieving international action on climate should not overshadow the significance of local interventions. Growing evidence suggests that local management will assist coral reefs through the period where we, as a global society, struggle to stabilize Earth's atmosphere. Strategies as broad as retaining herbivores (4), protecting naturally resilient areas (e.g., the sidebar “Palau combats coral bleaching,” C. Pala, 4 May, p. 680), and maintaining conditions for coral recruitment (5) appear to be effective for shoring up the resilience of reefs in preparation for the next 100 years of stress.

Although the current greenhouse trajectory is disastrous for coral reefs and the millions of people who depend on them for survival, we should not be lulled into accepting a world without corals. Only by imagining a world with corals will we build the resolve to solve the challenges ahead. We must avoid the “game over” syndrome and marshall the financial, political, and technical resources to stabilize the climate and implement effective reef management with unprecedented urgency.


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