Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network: Looking to the Future of the World's Coral Reefs

15 January 2009 | News story

As the International Year of the Reef came to an end, it seemed fitting to announce the release of ‘Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2008’, an international report that reminds us that our work on global coral reefs has only just begun.

Supported by IUCN and a number of international partners, the report was produced by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) and contains recommendations from over 300 experts from 96 countries and states from around the world on how best to conserve our coral reefs.

The report concludes that human activities continue to be the primary cause of the global coral reef crisis and details many new initiatives aimed at reversing reef degradation through biodiversity conservation and emphasizing the economic value and beauty of coral reefs.
“If nothing changes, we are looking at a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide in less than 50 years,” warns Carl Gustaf Lundin, Head of the IUCN Global Marine Programme. “As this carbon is absorbed, the oceans will become more acidic, which is seriously damaging a wide range of marine life from corals to plankton communities and from lobsters to seagrasses.”
Major threats in the last four years, including the Indian Ocean tsunami, more occurrences of bleaching, outbreaks of coral diseases and ever-heavier human pressures, have slowed or reversed recovery of some coral reefs after the 1998 mass bleaching event.

“The report details the strong scientific consensus that climate change must be limited to the absolute minimum. If nothing is done to substantially cut emissions, we could effectively lose coral reefs as we know them, with major coral extinctions,” says Clive Wilkinson, the report's lead editor Coordinator of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network.

On a more positive note, the report also highlights success stories from the past four years, with Australia’s Great Barrier Reef receiving acknowledgement alongside the major recovery of reefs in the Indian Ocean and western Pacific.

‘Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2008’ is the fifth global report since the GCRMN was formed in 1996 as an operational network for the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI).

The report was supplemented by ‘Socioeconomic Conditions along the World’s Tropical Coasts: 2008,’ a study produced by the NOAA-coordinated Global Socioeconomic Monitoring Initiative (SocMon) which provides the first regional and global synthesis of socio-economic data on the importance of healthy coral reefs for communities located along the world's tropical coasts. SocMon, in partnership with Conservation International, is an initiative aimed at helping coastal managers better understand and incorporate the socioeconomic context into coastal management programs.

"The significance of this study can not be ignored," notes Kacky Andrews who directs the overall NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program. "By listening to local communities we can better mitigate both human impacts on the reef as well as the effects of those negative changes on the community. We need both to happen if we are to be successful."

Both reports will be extremely useful and in-demand tools for coral reef managers and scientists around the world.

An evening reception was held at the Washington DC National Aquarium on December 9th to launch both publications which was well attended by the IUCN US’ Global Marine Team and the Capitol’s local marine community.