The Global Ocean Refuge System; a strategic way to protect vulnerable corals from climate change

New research dramatically underscores the need to accelerate establishment of marine reserves to help safeguard marine life from global climate change.  Our staff biogeographer, Dr. John Guinotte, co-authored an important paper published in this month’s issue of Nature Climate Change titled “Options for Managing Impacts of Climate Change on a Deep-Sea Community.” The paper presents new research indicating Southeastern Australia’s deep-sea coral reefs are likely to be severely degraded by the combination of rising temperatures and increasing ocean acidification within a few decades.  Dr. Guinotte’s paper was the featured cover story for this issue and the topic of Nature Climate Change’s lead editorial. The paper was also covered by Energy & Environment News and ABC Australia.

These dire findings prompted our organization, together with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Australia’s national science agency, to convene an international group of scientists and experts to assess options for dealing with the problem.  The panel considered 17 different mitigation options spanning biological, engineering and regulatory domains.  In the end they agreed the best approach is developing state-of-the-art ocean models to forecast where refuges for deep-sea reefs and other important deep-sea ecosystems might exist in the future, and take action to protect those sites.

Climate change threats are not limited to Australian waters and will impact many different marine ecosystems and fisheries around the world. This research reinforces the message that strongly protecting important marine areas as refuges is the best approach for safeguarding marine life and enhancing resilience to climate change.  Marine scientists suggest that strong protection for 20-30% of the ocean is necessary to maintain its resilience. Unfortunately, less than 1% of the entire ocean is fully protected as no-take marine reserve (MPAtlas.org).

Gorgonian and Hydrocoral found in deep waters off the West Coast of the US (Photo: NOAA).

Marine Conservation Institute has been at the forefront of modeling the impacts of ocean acidification and climate change for nearly a decade.  We have developed the tools to identify the best areas for marine refuges, and we urgently need your support to move this work forward.

Combating the impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems will not be easy. Science guides our strategy to identify and protect important ocean areas – including the Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES) initiative. GLORES is a strategic, science-based and systematic way to safeguard marine ecosystems on a global scale. Future work will look at how we integrate climate modeling into criteria for Global Ocean Refuges. The Global Ocean Refuge System will help mitigate the impacts of excess carbon dioxide on marine life and protect our oceans for us, and future generations.

Deep-water coral photographed near East Timor (Nick Hobgood" by Nhobgood - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Soft_coral_Nick_Hobgood.jpg#/media/File:Soft_coral_Nick_Hobgood.jpg
Deep-water coral near East Timor (Photo: Nick Hobgood Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

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