Reefs of Hope: Supporting a Community Led Approach to Save Our Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are among the most biodiverse and economically valuable ecosystems on Earth. However, they are facing unprecedented threats due to climate change, including rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification. In response to these challenges, Kyeema has partnered with Corals for Conservation (C4C) to implement it’s innovative “Reefs of Hope” methodology in the Pacific.

Reefs of Hope has recently received official endorsement from UNESCO as part of its Ocean Decade of Action, providing the highest level of international recognition. This methodology includes emergency measures to evacuate heat-adapted corals from the hottest parts of the reef to cooler waters within the same reef systems. By empowering communities and resorts to participate in coral conservation efforts, Reefs of Hope aims to prevent local coral species extinctions.

The operational assumptions of Reefs of Hope are straightforward:

  • The open ocean will remain under 33°C even in the worst-case scenarios.
  • Some outer coral reef areas will continue to remain under 33-34°C during marine heat waves of the future.
  • Corals exist within hot pocket reefs that can withstand multiple days of 34°C and above without bleaching.
  • These hot pocket areas are becoming even hotter, approaching lethal temperatures of >36C, which threatens to kill these most heat adapted corals.
  • Moving heat-adapted corals to cooler water nurseries is a viable strategy to prevent their demise and maintain genetic diversity.
  • Thermal resilience involves multiple factors, including the host, symbiotic algae, and probiotic bacteria, which can be best secured by moving corals from jeopardized hot pocket coral populations.
  • It is vital that coral reef scientists not only partner with governments, but that they also focus on those who most rely on coral reefs for their existence; island communities and the tourism industry, enabling non-scientists to take a proactive role in saving coral reefs.

Dr. Austin Bowden-Kerby, Director of C4C, who developed the Reefs of Hope methodology, has often been described as the grandfather of coral gardening. At the recent Reef Resilience Symposium in Cairns, he emphasized the urgent need for action, stating, “We are running out of time to save our coral reefs.”

Dr. Bowden-Kerby’s message is clear: the old models of coral conservation and restoration are no longer sufficient. Instead, we must focus on helping nature adapt to the present and future challenges posed by climate change. This means actively moving a diversity of corals from heats stressed reefs to cooler water nurseries before it’s too late.

As stewards of the planet, we have a unique opportunity to make a difference. By supporting Reefs of Hope and actively engaging in coral reef adaptation efforts, we can help ensure the survival of these invaluable ecosystems for future generations.

Dr. Bowden-Kerby believes that the future of the planet hinges on the actions of the coral reef community and their ability to reach out and include communities and the tourism industry in adaptation solutions, stating:

“With the thermal anomaly now becoming permanent, everything has changed. I believe that the very future of the planet is in the hands of the coral reef community. No other group can do what we can do. We must realize our unique position and we must cherish that position. Our coral reef community sits on the leading edge of a planetary collapse, and if we succeed in saving coral reefs, we can succeed in saving the planet.”

Community and tourism-led action is at the heart of the Reefs of Hope methodology. By empowering local communities and coral reef tourism partners to participate in coral conservation and adaptation efforts within locally established no-fishing reserves, Reefs of Hope not only helps prevent local coral species extinctions but also creates a sense of ownership and responsibility among community members and businesses. This approach recognizes that communities and resorts have the most to lose from coral reef collapse and are therefore crucial partners in conservation efforts. The strategies include visiting hot pocket reefs to assess the remaining coral populations both before and during marine heat waves, collecting unbleached individuals during bleaching events as the waters cool, and protecting them from predators within gene bank nurseries. Additionally, local translocation of corals from hot to cool reef areas is carried out during the cool winter months, while there is still time.

Once the heat adapted corals are secure within nurseries and in the cooler water restoration sites, natural processes of coral reef recovery begin to proceed, which includes the restoration of coral reproduction. Fish habitat is also enhanced by the corals, and the increasing fish populations reinforce community-based conservation efforts, amplifying the success pf MPAs and encouraging participating communities and resorts.  The resulting excitement helps propel the work forward, as interest in this breakthrough approach spreads.

Together, we can move swiftly to empower those most impacted to implement strategies that help our marine ecosystems to adapt to the changing climate and ensure the survival of reefs for generations to come. Help us embrace our unique UNESCO-endorsed position and work together to save not only coral reefs but also improve the resilience of the local communities working at the forefront.

Reefs of Hope
Kyeema Foundation Improve the health and wellbeing of marginalized communities and their environments
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