A healthy reef with associated high ecological, cultural and economic value. Photo by Robert Richmond

A healthy reef with associated high ecological, cultural and economic value. Photo by Robert Richmond

In a new study, released in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Marine Science, a team of University of Hawai‘i and international researchers explore the frontiers in natural and social science research — recommending actions that have the potential to build stronger support for reef management and improve the efficacy of conservation efforts.

The scientists identify ways to more accurately diagnose stressors affecting reef health, approaches to dealing with those stressors, and finally, the social and political factors in effective governance of coral reefs.

Many scientific studies have documented the impact of losing the world’s coral reefs — estimates indicate that 200 million people globally could bear the costs of losing the valuable economic, cultural and ecological services corals provide.

Time to Take Action

Coral polyps comprise a coral colony. Photo by Robert Richmond

Coral polyps comprise a coral colony. Photo by Robert Richmond

“While emerging and additional research tools and results are of great value, we can’t afford to delay acting on what we already know,” said Robert Richmond, research professor and director at UH Mānoa Kewalo Marine Laboratory, who has studied reefs for 42 years.

“We understand the root causes of coral reef losses and the actions that must be undertaken today,” Richmond said. “We have solutions available to us now that can turn things around before it’s too late.”

Just like blood tests devised to assess the health of a person, molecular biomarkers are produced by stressed corals and can be utilized to diagnose the key classes of stressors and their relative effect on the health of coral reefs. Richmond and co-authors recommend making this powerful tool more broadly available, including to developing areas where funding is limited.

The ‘Gardening’ Approach