Coral reef systems around the world have been taking a beating from the impact of global in the past few years, but according to a new study, there is evidence that suggests that some of these marine invertebrates may not be doing as poorly as what was initially thought.
Scientists in Australia have identified 15 coral reef systems out of the more than 2,500 in 46 different countries that are not dying out as quickly as what many experts first believed.
Despite suffering from pressures brought on by changes in the environment, such as widespread coral bleaching, these so-called "bright spots" in reef systems featured certain factors that could be used to develop more effective ways to preserve these marine habitats.
One such factor relates to how people are able to manage their contact with coral reefs. Many communities near these bright spots engage in discussions with local fishermen on how to maintain the integrity of the reefs systems in areas where they fish.
Fishermen also take part in the enforcement of conservation measures, which serves to discourage them from engaging in overfishing more effectively than if the policies were simply handed down to them by officials from outside of their communities.
Joshua Cinner, an ecologist from the University of Queensland and lead author of the study, pointed out that the coral reef crisis is often linked to poor governance.
While it is still necessary to lower the amount of carbon in the Earth's atmosphere to help save the coral reefs on a massive scale, the researchers believe that employing better fishing policies, such as those seen in these bright spots, can help mitigate some of the damage brought on by ocean warming and acidification.
"If you want to manage a fishery, you'll have a very difficult time telling the fish what to do," Cinner said. "It's the people you have to manage."
Minimizing Human Contact with Coral Reefs
According to the researchers, one of the measures used by communities near bright spots is the closing off of certain areas of the ocean.
In Papua New Guinea, residents of Karkar Island prohibit fishing in some parts of the sea whenever they have an upcoming social event. This allows fish stocks in the area to build up just before the locals have their big feast.
Karkar Island also shares a similar physical trait with other bright spots in which its waters are deep enough to allow fish and coral reefs to avoid being exposed to various fishing disturbances.
Such findings would suggest that minimizing human contact with reef systems could lead to an increase in the survival rates of corals. However, Cinner and his colleagues say this isn't necessarily true as they have also identified "dark spots" in the world's oceans that are in a far worse state despite being too far away to be accessed by humans.
Many of these dark spots are located in Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans along the Earth's equator. Some areas that were first thought to have well-protected coral reefs, such as those in the Hawaiian Islands, have been found to be less healthy based on current ecological models.
One possible explanation for this is the continued increase of ocean temperatures around the world. It is likely that waters in these areas have become too hot even for the coral reefs to handle.
This only proves that even though we can help slow down the death rate of coral reef systems through better fishery management, we still need to address the impacts of climate change in order to give corals a better chance for recovery.
The findings (PDF) of the multi-organizational study are featured in the journal Nature.