Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Coral Reef Stress Test: researchers develop model to determine survivability

With corals reefs being assaulted, it would seem, from all directions with global warming, pollution, and damage from urban development or tourism pressure all taking its toll; would it not be a valuable tool to have the means to gauge a reef's susceptibility to various environmental pressures, to be able to determine whether one reef has a better chance of survival over another?

Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society believe they have developed just such a tool - a "stress test" for coral reefs.

Reviewing the history and the current conditions (coral health, biodiversity) of reefs throughout the western Indian Ocean, the researchers were able to construct a test model with which they could determine which reefs would have a higher possibility of survival based on today's environmental pressures. By identifying specific reefs, the researchers would hope that greater coral reef management could be put in place to protect those particular reefs.

Through their work, which was recently published online in Global Change Biology, the researchers identified coastal regions stretching from southern Kenya to northern Mozambique, northeastern Madagascar, the Mascarene Islands, and the coastal border of Mozambique and South Africa as having the most promising characteristics of high diversity and low environmental stress.

"Reducing human impacts to minimize the multiple stressors on these globally important reefs will give corals a fighting chance in the age of global climate change. These results reveal a window of opportunity for the future conservation of the ocean's most biodiverse ecosystem," said Caleb McClennen, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Marine Program.

The unfortunate reality to all of this is that, while it would seem to be advantagous to be able to clearly identify regions that deserve protection based on those that would appear to have a more promising future, the flipside would imply that some regions would be sacrificed, basically written off because limited management resources would only be able to focus on those coral reefs with the best chance of survival in today's conditions.

It is a sad reality that we face; like a mother with two children but only enough food for one. How does she choose who shall survive and who shall perish? Have we cornered ourselves into a similar predicament with our coral reefs?

Read more about the coral reef "stress test" in EurekAlert.

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