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Would Better Marketing Help the Coral Reefs?

The world's coral reefs are dying and this week a powerhouse group of environmentalists released a report indicating that despite their efforts, the situation is getting worse. Seventy-five percent of the world's coral reefs are in danger of further decay.

Plenty of pressing causes, of course, see their awareness levels spike thanks to celebrity spokespeople and smart PR. In this instance, that's not happening. Does coral reef conservation just need better marketing?

Reefs at Risk Revisited, released by the D.C.-based World Resources Institute, along with the UN, Conservation International, and a host of other partners, is an update from a 1998 report. The main new addition is a finding that human actions—overfishing, coastal development, and pollution—are the most direct and immediate threats to coral reefs.

"This report serves as a wake-up call for policy-makers, business leaders, ocean managers, and others about the urgent need for greater protection for coral reefs," said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

But it's also a wake-up call to environmental NGO's themselves: Perhaps they need to change their tactics. "Managing oceans" doesn't quite have the same bite as "save a life with a malaria-fighting bed net"—and the malaria cause has attracted the likes of Ashley Judd, Mandy Moore, and Alicia Keys.

But who's speaking out for the reefs? With their beautiful schools of fish and eye-popping colors, coral reefs are a tangible face for the climate change cause, which, like malaria, will also cause mass human casualties—in the form of food shortage-induced hunger and forced migration

For now, the Nature Conservancy is on the right track, doing its part to give the environmental problem a human face, but it's got a long way to go before making a global impression.

"At their core, reefs are about people as well as nature: ensuring stable food supplies, promoting recovery from coral bleaching, and acting as a magnet for tourist dollars," said Mark Spalding, senior marine scientist at the Nature Conservancy and a lead author of the report. "We need apply the knowledge we have to shore up existing protected areas, as well as to designate new sites where threats are highest, such as the populous hearts of the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, East Africa and the Middle East."

The report also details the nine countries most at risk—Haiti, Grenada, Philippines, Comoros, Vanuatu, Tanzania, Kiribati, Fiji, and Indonesia—which for the most part are heavily frequented by international tourists. So there's an angle that could be employed by activists and campaigners. But in the end what the report's findings point to is that awareness and education are not enough—it might be time for a tactical change.

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[Image: Mila Zinkova]

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