A “Stress Test” for Coral Reefs

Part of preparing intelligently for climate change is a frank acknowledgment that we can’t do it all. No matter how hard we prepare to mitigate climate change or its effects, there will be casualties, and we will have to pick the battles we think we can win. This is the logic underlying a new study in Global Change Biology from researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Society. The researchers developed a “stress test” for coral reefs, identifying the ones they think most likely to survive rising sea temperatures. Those reefs–“reefs of hope,” they call them–that pass the test should become a priority for conservationists, say the researchers.

The researchers looked at a swath of the western Indian Ocean from South Africa to the Maldives. Examining data on multiple levels–the historical record, satellite, imagery, and observations from the field–the researchers concluded that “coastal regions stretching from southern Kenya to northern Mozambique, northeastern Madagascar, the Mascarene Islands, and the coastal border of Mozambique and South Africa,” having high diversity and low environmental stress, have the best prospects for survival, according to a release, and should therefore be a management priority.

In any field, triage is a grim, if pragmatic, duty. Particularly with coral reefs, which are notoriously sensitive. “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,” said Caleb McClennan, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Marine Program.

Right now that might be all we can hope for.

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[Image: Flickr user eutrophication&hypoxia]DZ