A&E Joins UNESCO In The Fight To Save The Coral Reef

Eliza Scarborough   |   05 - 10 - 2017

© The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey / Jayne Jenkins. Lagoon in the Great Barrier Reef, 2012


The first in it’s kind for a publication in the Middle East, A&E magazine joins forces with UNESCO in the fight to preserve the coral reef.


Following the recent revelation that the coral reef is likely to disappear by 2100 Unless CO2 emissions are drastically reduced, we decided to do something about it by raising awareness of how we can preserve the beauty and life of our oceans.


Dr. Fanny Douvere, coordinator of the Marine Programme at UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre in Paris, has been on a mission since 2009 to ensure the 49 marine sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List are conserved for future generations.


Dr. Fanny Douvere, coordinator, World Heritage Marine Programme, UNESCO © UNESCO / Andreas Krueger


Under her leadership, marine World Heritage transformed into a global network of flagship marine protected areas spanning 37 countries and stretching from the tropics to the poles, with marine areas protected under the World Heritage Convention more than doubling since she took office.


Her day-to-day work includes field missions to evaluate the state of conservation on a wide range of topics, including the critically endangered Vaquita in Mexico’s Gulf of California, the Rampal power plant in the Sundarbans, Bangladesh, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.


© The Ocean Agency, XL Catlin Seaview Survey, Lynton Burger Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System


Most recently, she led UNESCO’s first global scientific assessment on the impacts of climate change on World Heritage coral reefs which is a current issue that UNESCO is facing. Here we understand how many World Heritage-listed reefs, including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef or Phoenix Islands Protected Area in Kiribati, have been working hard to reduce pollution and boost resilience.


However, it is clear that local management is no longer sufficient to protect these iconic rainforests of the sea, and we are facing a global problem that demands global solutions.


© New Caledonia Bleaching The Ocean Agency, XL Catlin Seaview Survey, Richard Vevers


Soaring ocean temperatures in the past three years have subjected 21 of 29 World Heritage reefs to severe and/or repeated heat stress, and caused some of the worst bleaching (when the coral reef dies) observed at iconic sites like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Papahãnaumokuãkea in the USA, the Lagoons of New Caledonia in France, and Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles.


The analysis predicts that all 29 coral-containing World Heritage sites would cease to exist as functioning coral reef ecosystems by the end of this century under a business-as-usual emissions scenario.


© The Ocean Agency, XL Catlin Seaview Survey, Richard Vevers / Christophe Bailhache Great Barrier Reef


Dr. Fanny Douvere explains, “it only takes a spike of 1 to 2 degrees to threaten the health of coral reefs. As seawater heats up, coral animals expel the microscopic algae they rely on for energy. If heat stress lasts too long, and corals don’t reabsorb the algae, they can die. Reefs can recover from bleaching, but it takes 15 to 25 years, and with climate change causing more frequent heat waves, we are approaching the breaking point of these fragile systems.”


Coral communities typically take 15 to 25 years to recover from mass bleaching, so if carbon emissions are not dramatically reduced, every one of the 29 coral reefs on the World Heritage List could be lost, devastating the vibrant ecosystems they support, and the human communities that rely on them for food, jobs, and flood protection.


© The Ocean Agency, XL Catlin Seaview Survey, Christophe Bailhache Great Barrier Reef, Lizard Island


If emissions peak in 2040 and then decline, science predicts there will be widespread devastation. Under this scenario, 14 of 29 World Heritage reefs would bleach twice per decade by 2040, and all but two would bleach annually by 2100. Warming of 1.5°C is recognised by many scientists as the maximum for coral reef survival, and the UNESCO research bore this out. Clearly, implementation of the most ambitious target of the Paris Climate Agreement is absolutely essential.


Protecting World Heritage reefs will require complementary national and global efforts, especially if we want our children and grandchildren to still see these marvellous underwater treasures. Join us and spread the word today.