Coral-Focused Climate Change Adaptation and Restoration Based on Accelerating Natural Processes: Launching the “Reefs of Hope” Paradigm
1. Introduction: Preventing Coral Reef Collapse
2. Reexamining Existing Climate Change Adaptation Models for Coral Reefs
- Present reef condition, plus levels of protection from overfishing and land-based threats should be included in the model, especially as the establishment of no-take areas and implementation of pollution control measures are presently the dominant strategies for building resilience to climate change on coral reefs. This represents a major contradiction between the dominant management and adaptation paradigms.
- Coral species diversity might play a role in the selection matrix, as the present model treats all coral reefs as being equal.
- Presence and extent of pre-adapted, bleaching-resistant, coral populations living in warm waters within shallow lagoons and reef flats and up-current from other major coral reef areas must be included , with the intention of translocating corals which are bleaching-resistant from the hotter reefs to cooler waters before marine heat waves become lethal to these heat adapted coral populations.
- Cyclones as a parameter must be reassessed. The 50 Reefs Initiative assumption is that cyclones are 100% negative, however, a positive overall impact has been demonstrated by several researchers [23,24,25]. Indeed, we have seen NOAA predictions of mass coral bleaching in our Fiji sites dissipate on multiple occasions due to cyclones passing nearby. While cyclones may indeed wipe out or damage tens or even hundreds of km of reef, at the same time they cool off a much wider swath of water. The Chagos Archipelago  and the reefs of the three far-flung island groups of Kiribati, are among the most bleaching-impacted of all coral reefs, and all are located on or very near the equator. These island groups experience absolutely no cyclones, due to opposing Coriolis forces, preventing this cyclone-mediated release of excessive heat build-up .
- While bleaching history and future bleaching projections should certainly be included in the model, making the model 2/3 based on bleaching, while excluding other vital parameters, does not seem prudent. The present model includes “recent thermal conditions”, defined as summer temperatures over the past two years, as a separate parameter. This appears to be double counting, as bleaching history is already included as a parameter in the model.
- Connectivity certainly is a valid parameter to include in the model, however, connectivity among coral genera varies greatly. Connectivity is driven by currents and is dependent on the presence of up-current larval sources available for recolonization . About 80% of broadcast spawning genera, such as Acropora have short-lived larvae , and it is essential for them to take in zooxanthella within five to seven days after settlement because a failure to do so may lead to death. In contrast, brooding coral genera such as Pocillopora carry photosynthetic algae with them and can produce food along the way, so they are much longer-lived larvae. Resilience, meaning the ability of the reefs to recover their original population and species mix after multiple mass bleaching events, should reflect estimates of connectivity, and thus resilience might make a better predictor than theoretical models of connectivity . Coral reefs without up-current sources of heat-adapted larvae are more vulnerable, and in theory, can be expected to undergo phase shifts away from broadcasting species and Acropora dominance and towards brooding species dominance over time, which is what we have seen in the field.
3. Developing a Coral-Focused Adaptation Model Using Bleaching Resistant Corals
4. Support for Translocating Bleaching Resistant Corals
5. Seeking out Both Symbiont-Based and Host-Based Bleaching Resistance
6. The Need for Biosecurity Measures for Local Coral Translocation, and Suggested Methods
7. Post-Bleaching Predation Eliminates Resistant Coral Survivors, Preventing Adaptation
8. Focus on the Most Vulnerable of Coral Species to Prevent Ecosystem Collapse
9. Summary of Coral-Focused Adaptation Measures: Reefs of Hope Strategies
- Translocate bleaching-resistant corals of targeted declining species (Acropora), from hot nearshore reefs approaching the maximum thermal threshold for coral survival, rescued from where their continued survival is questionable, and moved to cooler reef areas where their survival in warming seas is more secure.
- Sample unbleached corals of targeted species during or shortly after severe bleaching events, to secure them from predators, and as a selection strategy for bleaching resistant brood stock.
- Establish gene bank nurseries where heat-adapted corals of multiple declining species are grown and maintained over multiple years in a secure environment, and where size is kept in check through harvesting corals for use in coral reef restoration for climate change adaptation.
- Harvest nursery-reared corals to create genetically diverse patches of bleaching-resistant corals on cooler outer reefs, to facilitate restoration of sexual reproduction process and the formation of coral larvae, encouraging crosses between known bleaching-resistant strains and with cool-adapted coral strains of the outer reefs.
- Establish patches of bleaching resistant corals among populations of bleaching-sensitive corals to encourage potential sharing of resistant algal symbionts with surrounding corals, thereby spreading resilience more widely throughout the coral reef systems, and potentially as a natural outcome of moderate bleaching events.
- For reefs of low coral cover due to past bleaching or cyclone events, establish patches of bleaching-resistant corals in order to create a strong settlement signal for incoming coral larvae [51,52] while serving as a source for inoculation of juvenile corals with bleaching-resistant algal strains, as many coral species acquire their algae only after settlement. The offspring of many corals (approximately 80% of broadcasting species) acquire symbiotic zooxanthellae from the natural environment . It is essential for them to settle and take in zooxanthellae within five to seven days after formation, because a failure to do so may lead to death.
10. Modeling Coral Restoration Strategies on Tropical Forest Restoration, to Assist Natural Adaptation and Recovery Processes
11. Restoring Nutrient Cycling by Restoring the Fish–The “Birds of the Reef”
12. Summary of Coral Restoration for Assisted Natural Recovery of Coral Reefs
Conflicts of Interest
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Bowden-Kerby, A. Coral-Focused Climate Change Adaptation and Restoration Based on Accelerating Natural Processes: Launching the “Reefs of Hope” Paradigm. Oceans 2023, 4, 13-26. https://doi.org/10.3390/oceans4010002
Bowden-Kerby A. Coral-Focused Climate Change Adaptation and Restoration Based on Accelerating Natural Processes: Launching the “Reefs of Hope” Paradigm. Oceans. 2023; 4(1):13-26. https://doi.org/10.3390/oceans4010002Chicago/Turabian Style
Bowden-Kerby, Austin. 2023. "Coral-Focused Climate Change Adaptation and Restoration Based on Accelerating Natural Processes: Launching the “Reefs of Hope” Paradigm" Oceans 4, no. 1: 13-26. https://doi.org/10.3390/oceans4010002