Human intervention may be able to “buy time”, boost the resilience of endangered coral reefs, and give them a better chance of surviving climate change by adopting the “radical tools” in a new blueprint issued last month by a committee of the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Grist reports.
The stakes are incredibly high, with one-quarter of all marine species and an estimated one billion people depending on the reefs and their “diverse and vital ecosystems”, the story notes.
“The interim report, released in November, identified 23 radical intervention strategies, many of them experimental, that could make corals more resilient to the effects of climate change,” Grist explains. “Those tools include everything from relocation and genetic manipulation of coral species to antibiotic use and spraying salt water into the atmosphere to shade and cool reefs.”
While some of the techniques can be introduced right away, “others likely won’t be ready for implementation for years or decades, according to the new analysis. For example, selective breeding and pre-exposing corals to warmer water to build heat resistance are proven techniques. But it could be decades before genetic manipulation and atmospheric shading are developed and proven tools.’
The committee stressed the emergency measures it was recommending were no substitute for rapidly reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, concluding that solving the climate crisis is “the only way the corals are going to be able to thrive into the far future,” Stanford University marine biologist and committee chair Stephen Palumbi told a public briefing in Washington, DC.
“Though all of these interventions entail some risk, the risk from doing nothing is increasing year by year,” added reef biologist and committee member Nancy Knowlton.
“For nations and conservation managers looking to take action, the report provides a detailed pathway for assessing the risks and benefits of implementing one or more interventions,” Grist states. “The report puts particular emphasis on local stakeholder engagement, long-term monitoring of reef health, and the importance of taking an ‘adaptive’ approach that allows leaders to change strategies as they go.”