The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has launched a data-based tool and a report that support the protection of coral reefs threatened by climate change, and prioritize reef management. Both were launched at the second session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-2), meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, from 23-27 May 2016.
The dataset, which provides the tool, downscales climate model projections for coral bleaching conditions at a resolution of 4km. Bleaching due to climate change threatens coral reefs, which become more vulnerable to erosion, lose their structure, and experience reduced productivity and provision of ecosystems services. This, in turn, affects coastal populations and those who depend on reefs for income or food, as well as sectors, such as tourism. Speaking on the occasion of the launch, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said that human activity has led to the disappearance of almost 20% of coral reefs and supported early and effective action on climate change.
The data are available through UNEP Live and can be freely downloaded and used for management or adaptation planning and outreach. The dataset was compiled by the UNEP, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and the Pacific Islands Climate Science Center of the US Geological Service.
The report, titled ‘Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems: A lifeboat for coral reefs?,’ discusses the importance and role of mesophotic reefs to reef conservation and overall ecosystem health. It suggests that these mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs) may be resistant to some climate change impacts and may be able to help restock damaged or destroyed shallow-water coral reefs and fish populations. The report cautions, however, that this finding is species-dependent. To improve the conservation and management of MCEs, the report recommends that resource managers, inter alia: identify MCEs and threats to MCES in their jurisdiction; expand shallow reef monitoring programmes to include MCE habitats; and include MCEs in marine spatial planning.