Despite worries, some coral reefs 'doing much better than we anticipated'

From the ARC CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE IN CORAL REEF STUDIES and the “Nature always finds a way” department

Bright spots shine light on the future of coral reefs

The Bird's Head Seascape is home to over 200 internationally acclaimed scuba diving sites. Conservation International /photo by Mark Erdmann LocationRaja Ampat
The Bird’s Head Seascape is home to over 200 internationally acclaimed scuba diving sites. Conservation International /photo by Mark Erdmann Location Raja Ampat

Researchers have discovered a handful of ‘bright spots’ among the world’s embattled coral reefs, offering the promise of a radical new approach to conservation.

In one of the largest global studies of its kind, researchers conducted over 6,000 reef surveys in 46 countries across the globe, and discovered 15 ‘bright spots’ – places where, against all the odds, there were a lot more fish on coral reefs than expected.

“Given the widespread depletion of coral reef fisheries globally, we were really excited to find these bright spots that were doing much better than we anticipated,” says lead author Professor Josh Cinner from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

“These ‘bright spots’ are reefs with more fish than expected based on their exposure to pressures like human population, poverty, and unfavourable environmental conditions.

“To be clear, bright spots are not necessarily pristine reefs, but rather reefs that have more fish than they should, given the pressures they face.

“We wanted to know why these reefs could ‘punch above their weight’ so-to-speak, and whether there are lessons we can learn about how to avoid the degradation often associated with overfishing.”

Co-author, Professor Nick Graham of Lancaster University says globally, coral reefs are in decline and current strategies for preserving them are insufficient.

“Our bright spots approach has identified places we did not previously know were so successful, and the really interesting thing is that they are not necessarily untouched by man,” he says.

“We believe their discovery offers the potential to develop exciting new solutions for coral reef conservation.”

“Importantly, the bright spots had a few things in common, which, if applied to other places, might help promote better reef conditions.”

“Many bright spots had strong local involvement in how the reefs were managed, local ownership rights, and traditional management practices,” says co-author Dr. Christina Hicks of Lancaster and Stanford Universities.

The scientists also identified 35 ‘dark spots’ – these were reefs with fish stocks in worse shape than expected.

“Dark spots also had a few defining characteristics; they were subject to intensive netting activities and there was easy access to freezers so people could stockpile fish to send to the market,” says Dr. Hicks.

This type of bright spots analysis has been used in fields such as human health to improve the wellbeing of millions of people. It is the first time it has been rigorously developed for conservation.

“We believe that the bright spots offer hope and some solutions that can be applied more broadly across the world’s coral reefs,” says Prof. Cinner.

“Specifically, investments that foster local involvement and provide people with ownership rights can allow people to develop creative solutions that help defy expectations of reef fisheries depletion.

“Conversely, dark spots may highlight development or management pathways to avoid.”

Bright spots were typically found in the Pacific Ocean in places like the Solomon Islands, parts of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Kiribati. Dark spots were more globally distributed and found in every major ocean basin.

The study has been published in the journal Nature. Thirty nine scientists from 34 different universities and conservation groups conducted the research.




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Climate Dissident
June 17, 2016 6:56 am

Why are they surprised?
Corals developed with more CO2 in the air and with a higher temperature, so
they should easily live through these changes,

george e. smith
Reply to  Climate Dissident
June 17, 2016 7:04 am

Well now that they know where those fish coral reefs are, don’t expect them to stay fishy for very long. The tomb robbers will clean them out as soon as they learn where they are.
Why the hell don’t you just stay out of the coral reefs, and let them take care of themselves.
If it wasn’t for all of the dead samples in university drawers and boxes or trays, we would have a whole lot fewer extinct species.

Reply to  george e. smith
June 17, 2016 7:35 am

George wrote:

If it wasn’t for all of the dead samples in university drawers and boxes or trays, we would have a whole lot fewer extinct species.

Verily, George.
Researcher: “You mean our specimen was the last known living representative of that species? Oops…”

Reply to  Climate Dissident
June 17, 2016 7:26 am

The study seems to be around impacts from people, not climate – fishing, damage, pollution.
But things which evolved over millions of years may not always adapt to changes taking place over decades:

Reply to  Griff
June 17, 2016 10:02 am

Climate has always changed in decadal time frames. Nothing unusual about it at all.

Joseph Murphy
Reply to  Griff
June 17, 2016 1:11 pm

Griff, thanks for the link. I had a few problems with the article but I appreciate you sharing your opinions and the article.
The article starts out rather benign with scientists speculating and admitting they really don’t know. Then it moves into nonsense territory with Simon Donner of the University of British Columbia and his climate models that assuredly prove everything will die. There is good news according to Donner. We are already past the tipping point where most coral will be bleached. So, no reason to worry, damage done.
Then there is Andreas Andersson of the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences who says, “We don’t have major industries or pollution, so any changes we detect in Bermuda’s coral reefs are probably due to global changes like warming and ocean acidification.” Of course, the only two things that affect coral are direct contact with people or indirect contact with people. And people say science is hard, pffff.
A few other gems that had me smiling. “Experiments [Aline Tribollet] conducted in Hawaii show reefs will dissolve 48 percent faster when the level of CO2 in the atmosphere jumps from 400 parts per million to 750 ppm.” So, reefs that are growing now will dissolve 48% faster? Does that mean they will grow slower? I don’t know.
“”Corals may also have trouble coping as sea level rises and stirs up sediments”, said Kimberley Yates of the U.S. Geological Survey.” Im shaking in my boots for the corals over that one. Hurricanes, no problem. A little under 2mm sea level rise, too much sediment! She continues, “Many communities are currently not keeping up with sea level rise.” …That fairly steady sea level rise since the end of the last glaciation? Huh.

Reply to  Griff
June 18, 2016 8:21 am

Hi Joseph
Scientists are comfortable with a level of uncertainty, I find… but that doesn’t mean that everything they are working on is unknown – just the areas where they are pushing forward knowledge…

Reply to  Griff
June 18, 2016 3:32 pm

Griff, this article is really about the effects of over fishing (at least as excerpted here). Acidicification isn’t discussed, however I’ll caution you that the myth of “ocean acidification” is just that; a myth.
THe amount of carbon dioxide necessary to change oceanic pH by a single point is astronomical. It simply can’t be done, and that’s without considering the ocean’s ability to buffer CO2. Earth’s ocean comprise approximately 330 million cubic miles of water. That’s a lot of mass (a pint’s a pound world round). We could burn every ounce of fossil fuel on the planet and not make a dent in it.

Reply to  Griff
June 18, 2016 3:41 pm

“But things which evolved over millions of years may not always adapt to changes taking place over decades”
I’ll also mention we have no scientific proof at all to support the conjecture expressed here; that things which have evolved over millions of years may tot always adapt.
The temporal resolution of paleo-climate records is completely incapable demonstrating the effects of decadal or even millennial climate variation. The measurements simply don’t exist. For this reason, anything we have concerning the ability of organisms to adapt, and the rates at which they are able to adapt, is unfounded opinion. This is a fundamental measurement problem and it can’t be corrected.

Reply to  Griff
June 18, 2016 3:43 pm

The corals have been there less than 12,000 years. Where is the million year bullsh*t coming from?

Reply to  Griff
June 18, 2016 4:45 pm

“The corals have been there less than 12,000 years”
Corals are one of the oldest known organisms, with fossil records going back to the Triassic?

Reply to  Griff
June 18, 2016 4:47 pm

Triassic = ~ 250 million years ago.

June 17, 2016 7:00 am

Paul Kench is an real coral reef scientist who spends a lot of his time out there taking data. I would strongly recommend his work to anyone interested in coral reefs. The crazy alarmism that has been going on for decades now about the imminent death of coral reefs is almost childish by comparison.

June 17, 2016 7:10 am

The scientists also identified 35 ‘dark spots’ – these were reefs with fish stocks in worse shape than expected.
“Dark spots also had a few defining characteristics; they were subject to intensive netting activities and there was easy access to freezers so people could stockpile fish to send to the market,” says Dr. Hicks.

Oops! That makes sense and has nothing to do with CAGW. How’d that get in there?

Reply to  H.R.
June 17, 2016 7:14 am

Outlaw freezers!

Reply to  H.R.
June 18, 2016 3:49 pm

It’s a not so subtle suggestion we should take away electricity from the Palau natives, who very obviously aren’t mature enough to use it correctly…

June 17, 2016 7:13 am

Oh no, the coral reefs aren’t dying! Like the forests! This is a disaster for anyone making money off of scaring people.

Reply to  emsnews
June 17, 2016 11:05 am

ehm, they are dying, it’s just that this research found that 15 out of 6000 are not dying as quickly as the rest. But sure, use this as an excuse to pretend nothing is going on with coral reefs *facepalm*

Bruce Cobb
Reply to  benben
June 17, 2016 12:18 pm

Erm, no they are not “dying”. Did you even read the article? It has to do with depletion of coral reef fisheries, primarily due to poor or no management practices in place.
Facepalm indeed.

Reply to  benben
June 17, 2016 2:46 pm

“Did you even read the article?”
Benben doesn’t need to read articles. His roommate is doing a PhD in writing computer games climate models, so he knows all there is to know about climate science.

June 17, 2016 7:16 am

Sunscreen is highly toxic to coral.
With all of the ecotourism, direct impacts by man from pollution, run-off, sunscreen, and overfishing, is causing us to love coral to death. I’ve watched this decline first-hand in the Caribbean for the last 35 years. We go every year. The reefs doing the best are in the remote, hard to reach sites.

Reply to  wallensworth
June 17, 2016 3:26 pm

But surely the reefs will burn if they don’t wear sun screen?

Reply to  wallensworth
June 18, 2016 3:53 pm

I too have visited the reefs many times all over the world. Never used sunscreen, that’s why God invented rash guards.

Bruce Cobb
June 17, 2016 7:16 am

What, no mention of “carbon pollution” or even of “climate change”? No more funding for you!

Reply to  Bruce Cobb
June 17, 2016 8:14 am

Kind of refreshing.

Reply to  Bruce Cobb
June 19, 2016 9:22 am

Overfishing is a serious problem. It’s good WUWT takes an interest.

June 17, 2016 8:12 am

They make it sound like climate change is not killing the reefs, just people.
In the Bahamas, the locals squirt chlorox into the reef crevices to get the lobsters out. Kills everything. Try pouring chlorox into your fish tank. I kid you not.
But, hey, how much money can you get out of some impoverished guy in the Bahamas?
The stupidity and cupidity are both strong in the AGW movement. We live in an insane world.

June 17, 2016 8:37 am

Here’s an article about another recent study of interest:
It was a “massive project spanning 56 islands, researchers documented 450 coral reefs.
Coral Reefs Just Fine If Away From Humans -These scientists studying coral reefs were brought to tears — but in a good way
The results show that coral reefs surrounding remote islands were dramatically healthier than those in populated areas that were subject to a variety of human impacts.
“There are still coral reefs on this planet that are incredibly healthy and probably look the way they did 1,000 years ago,” said Jennifer Smith, lead author of the study and a professor at Scripps’s Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation.

So much for the last ten thousand studies and articles telling us that GW and CO2 is reeking havoc on coral reefs around the globe.
It’s having no effect. And, remember this one from a few months back?

Dr Shallin Busch, who works for NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program discussed the draft of the article with fellow scientist Ms Applebaum. She warns that they can’t say that OA (Ocean Acidification) was definitely a problem anywhere at the moment:
Unfortunately, I can’t provide this information to you because it doesn’t exist. As I said in my last email, currently there are NO areas of the world that are severely degraded because of OA or even areas that we know are definitely affected by OA right now. If you want to use this type of language, you could write about the CO2 vent sites in Italy or Polynesia as examples of things to come. Sorry that I can’t be more helpful on this!

Reply to  garyh845
June 18, 2016 4:00 pm

“Unfortunately, I can’t provide this information to you because it doesn’t exist”
+ too many to count. How do you get a headline in 24 pt. type out of that one?

June 17, 2016 9:47 am

Why do they never mention Bikini atoll where the coral is growing like a forest and in pristine condition after being vaporized in the 1950s .
Where man does not go is the clue.

June 17, 2016 10:00 am

Some coral reefs are expanding. Some coral reefs are contracting.
Sounds like the world is reacting to change. The same as it has done for the last few billion years.

Reply to  MarkW
June 17, 2016 1:19 pm

This is similar to the glacier thing. You can deny the seriousness of the situation by saying some coral areas are coping (like some glaciers are) but the overwhelming evidence says coral reefs around the world are in big trouble, none more so than the Great Barrier reef. And you don’t have to look hard at the moment to see the truth. Yo just have to open your eyes….

Reply to  Simon
June 17, 2016 2:49 pm

Alarmist drivel.
Stop making stuff up.

Reply to  Simon
June 17, 2016 3:24 pm

Please get your FACTS straight about the Great Barrier Reef.
The drivel that comes from James Cook University is just that. The once-very good institution has been ambushed by alarmist greenies.

Reply to  Simon
June 17, 2016 7:30 pm

Which part is made up? Are you saying the glacier ice mass is not retreating world wide? If so lets see a reference? Are you saying the Great Barrier is not in dire trouble? If so let’s see a reference. Till then you are the one “making it up.”

Reply to  Simon
June 18, 2016 4:06 am

All change is bad. All change is caused by humans. Humans are bad and must change their ways.
I think that sums up your thought processes. Have I left anything out?
For example, how can a degree of increased temperature (maybe) cause the Arctic ice to regress and glaciers to retreat? You don’t know. You don’t care to know or inquire about it. (God’s will.) And, do you even know if glacier retreat is a bad idea? Try living on a glacier.

Reply to  Simon
June 18, 2016 2:30 pm

Let’s see.
Is all change bad?… No.
Are humans bad? Some.
Is the fact the glaciers are retreating bad? Any quick change in climate places stress on many of the life forms that inhabit the areas. So quick change is bad. The Great Barrier Reef is a good example of quick change causing problems.

Reply to  Simon
June 18, 2016 4:04 pm

“Change gives me a hairball” — Tom Van Vleck.

Reply to  MarkW
June 18, 2016 4:03 pm

Well, tomorrow it will be over 115F in Phoenix Arizona. Hows that for change? Last time it was over 115F in June, in Phoenix, was (in my own personal recollection) 1971! Unprecedented!

June 17, 2016 10:32 am

The phrase “more fish than expected based on their exposure to pressures like human population, poverty, and unfavourable environmental conditions” can only mean one thing. The methods used to determine the expectations are seriously flawed.

June 17, 2016 10:33 am

That 360 video is too kewl!
Anybody else spot the manta ray? Look around.
The full length version will be outstanding.
I often tell people to go slow and turn around to look behind them. The critters will often follow you to see what you are doing. I was watching a woman as she turned and came face to face with a great big sea turtle. Prior to that I did not know you could screech underwater.

Reply to  TonyL
June 17, 2016 11:06 am

pfff I should have heeded your advice. I was diving in the Philippines a couple of years ago and a massive whaleshark swim past my back, but I never noticed it. The rest of the group had a good laugh about that.

Reply to  benben
June 17, 2016 4:24 pm

And that is a good, operational excuse why you have to go back and do that reef again. I use the old “need to monitor changes” line. Others use the “We need to feed the sea turtles, they must be getting hungry by now” gambit. Works like a charm.

Reply to  benben
June 18, 2016 4:32 pm

I was doing my level 1 deep air certification at the 1 mile buoy in Monterey about 25 years ago. We made the dive with doubles and lights, the only task was to get there and back again, but we had to spend 15 minutes at 170′. When we got there we were surrounded by scallops the size of dinner plates (well, they looked that big at 170′ anyway).
On the descent we went through a pretty thick layer of plankton so it was pitch dark at depth, I mean black; the lights weren’t optional. So the five of us are sort of wandering around, pointing our lights at these huge scallops and making “wow” motions with our hands, when we feel this motion in the water. Mind you, we’re in the Pacific ocean, a mile offshore. Motion in the water? Really?
We all turned our lights in the direction the surge was coming from and it was a California Blue Whale feeding on the krill layer we’d just descended through. It literally pushed us out of its way as it went past feeding on the krill.
It was the closest thing I’ve ever had to a religious experience 🙂

Reply to  TonyL
June 18, 2016 4:10 pm

“I often tell people to go slow and turn around to look behind them.”
I used to have a harbor seal that followed me everywhere while I was hunting fish in the Carmel Canyon (CA). She learned to get right behind me, just out of sight. I’d spear a fish, put it on my stringer, then start moving ahead and she’d swoop down from behind, tear the fish of my stringer and swim off.
I called her the tax lady.

Reply to  Bartleby
June 18, 2016 11:03 pm

In truth, she was a friend of mine and we fished together for almost two years. I have a bronze of her in my office my wife gave me. Even though she stole my fish, there’s no ill will between us and there never was.

June 17, 2016 3:21 pm

If I happen to see a school of fish, have I found a bright spot?
If so, am I bright also???

June 17, 2016 6:41 pm

“These ‘bright spots’ are reefs with more fish than expected based on their exposure to pressures like human population, poverty, and unfavourable environmental conditions.”
Good God! The fish are living in / with poverty!!

Not Oscar, just a grouch
June 17, 2016 9:40 pm

Gee. Reefs that are away from humans are doing better. So, does that mean:
A) Climate changes less where there are no people?
B) Overfishing is bad for reefs? (everything else, too)
C) Tourists touching, urinating on, exposing to sunscreen/hair gel/deodorant/perfume/hair dyes/depilatory creams/shaving products/aftershave/spilled booze/vomit/whatever else they toss or drop overboard make reefs sickly?
D) Both B and C?
E) Something else entirely?
Bonus points: Did Greenpeace ram into the reef and dump hundreds of gallons of fuel oil directly onto the reef while trying to protect the reef?

Reply to  Not Oscar, just a grouch
June 18, 2016 4:16 pm

Peeing on the reef isn’t bad for the reef, but it does make your wetsuit stink. Just personal experience.

June 18, 2016 2:08 am

There are no inductive inferences.
Karl Popper

June 18, 2016 2:35 am

“Local ownership rights” helped to protect reefs? Who’d have guessed? /sarc

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