The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) is an informal partnership between countries and organisations which strives to preserve coral reefs and related ecosystems around the world, of which both the United Kingdom and the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI) are members. They recently released a report following a survey of 28 countries and organisations striving to preserve coral reefs and related ecosystems, in which they found that money, political will and expertise were all needed to restore the world’s coral reefs.
Most ICRI members who responded to the online survey highlighted the need for more research to understand what they needed to do, and to establish a plan of action. Most also said more funding and training was needed, the initiative stated. Almost all ICRI country-members said new reef restoration policy was needed, which should be integrated with existing policy.
Founded in 1994 by eight governments: Australia, France, Japan, Jamaica, the Philippines, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the ICRI was first announced at the First Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity in December 1994, and at the high level segment of the Intersessional Meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development in April 1995. ICRI now counts more than 60 members. Its influence is growing as it continues to highlight globally the importance of coral reefs and related ecosystems to environmental sustainability, food security and social and cultural wellbeing. Its work is also regularly acknowledged by the United Nations.
Reefs under threat
Coral reefs are some of the most beautiful, biologically-diverse and valuable ecosystems on the planet, the ICRI said, and the global economic value of coral reefs from goods and services was estimated to be worth US$375 billion per year, supporting the livelihoods of at least 500 million people through activities such as fisheries and tourism.
“Healthy coral reef ecosystems can reduce up to 97% of wave energy, acting as barriers to storms and are the first line of defence for millions of people in coastal communities,” the ICRI said. “Coral reefs are also among the most threatened ecosystems on the planet.”
But while coral reefs are among the most biologically-diverse and economically valuable ecosystems on the planet, the ICRI explained that they are also among the most threatened.
Underscoring the threat to the world’s coral reefs, the ICRI stated that reductions in coral reef health have been recorded in all major tropical oceans since the 1980s, with an average of 30 to 50 per cent reduction in coral cover globally.
“The drivers of these declines include local and regional stressors such as pollution, overfishing and habitat destruction. Global climate change is now recognised as the key driver of coral reef declines, associated with bleaching events, disease outbreaks and ocean acidification,” it said.
What can be done?
The ICRI created a Plan of Action 2018-2020 which called for the promotion of leading reef restoration practices by facilitating partnerships, investment and capacity-building among members. To get this idea off the ground, an ICRI committee on reef restoration was last year formed and issued an interim report, which recommended:
Strong action on climate change and other stressors: Coral restoration should not be viewed as a replacement for reducing local, regional and global stressors acting on reefs.
Investment in research and development: Substantial research and development is required to scale up and improve all facets of restoration and adaptation.
Promoting knowledge-sharing and collaboration: There would be great benefit in global cooperation, collaboration and knowledge-sharing to ensure efficient use of resources.
Developing best practice guidelines: Science-based guidance for restoration practitioners is critically needed, and the UNEP and collaborating organisations have committed to facilitating the production of guidelines.
Developing policy and plans: New or refined policy and plans relevant to restoration and adaptation are needed.
Promote ‘blue restoration’: the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration represents an opportunity to promote ‘blue restoration’ including restoring coral reefs. Further, the goal of large-scale restoration, to sequester carbon and reduce anthropogenic climate change, could help mitigate the main threat to coral reefs.