Report: Most coral reefs may disappear by 2050 due to climate change

By 2050, coral cover will decrease to less than 5% on most existing, shallow-water coral reefs if global carbon dioxide emissions are not reduced and sea surface temperatures continue to rise as a result, according to a report released in February by WWF Australia and the Queensland (Australia) Tourism Industry Council. Conducted by reef biologist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of Queensland University and economist Hans Hoegh-Guldberg, the study focuses primarily on anticipated effects of human-induced climate change on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR).

Under the best-case scenario, write the authors, there would be recoverable loss of corals on the GBR and elsewhere if global warming remained less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. (Average global warming is now at 0.6 degrees above pre-industrial levels.) Such a scenario would require Australia and other developed nations to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions by 80% by the middle of this century, namely by switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. The report is available online in PDF format at

Coral death can result from prolonged bleaching episodes, in which corals turn white in response to stress (MPA News 3:1). Any number of stressors – including siltation, destructive fishing practices, and increased temperatures – can result in the loss of corals’ symbiotic algae, whose photosynthetic pigments give coral reefs their color. Bleached corals can survive for some time during sporadic increased-temperature events, but if conditions do not return to normal they can die. “The rapid reduction in coral cover will have major consequences for other organisms and reef functions,” as well as for tourism, write the report authors. Reef-interested tourism annually generates AU$1.4 billion (US$1.1 billion) for communities surrounding the Great Barrier Reef.

By reducing other stressors to corals, MPA practitioners can help increase reef resiliency in the face of climate change. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) has co-instituted a Reef Water Quality Protection Plan to reduce the flow of contaminants into coastal waters of the park, and has proposed a re-zoning plan with expanded no-take areas (MPA News 5:6). For more information on GBRMPA’s responses to the threat of coral bleaching, visit

Tasmania to designate two marine reserves

In February, the Australian state government of Tasmania proposed designation of two marine reserves, representing what officials termed the first large-scale declaration of MPAs in Tasmanian coastal waters. The 170-km2 Port Davey/Bathurst Harbour Marine Reserve and the 290-km2 Kent Group Marine Reserve will both feature highly protected (no-take) “sanctuary zones” comprising just over 50% of each site’s total area. The remainder of each reserve will be “habitat protection zones” in which certain fishing methods, including for abalone and rock lobster, will be allowed. Handlining for finfish will also be permitted in the latter zones.

The proposed reserves represent the culmination of nearly eight years of off-and-on public planning. For the reserves to take effect, the Tasmanian Parliament must allow amendments to existing fisheries rules at the two sites, which officials expect to happen. The government seeks to have the new reserves take effect in mid-April, according to Tasmanian Environment Minister Judy Jackson.

The designations represent a 20-fold increase in marine reserve area in Tasmanian coastal waters, from 20 km2 to nearly 500 km2. The Tasmanian government designated four smaller marine reserves in 1991, as well as a 58,000-km2 no-take zone within the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island Marine Park in 2000 (MPA News 1:1). The new reserves will be the first to be designated since finalization of the government’s Tasmanian Marine Protected Areas Strategy in 2001.

One hallmark of that strategy is its provision that “adjustment payments” be made to fishermen or other parties – such as shop or motel owners – who can show that designation of an MPA resulted directly in a financial loss, and that there was no alternative for recouping the loss elsewhere (MPA News 3:11). Doug Nicol, principal fisheries management officer for the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water, and the Environment, says that in the case of the two proposed reserves, he doubts any fishers or other business owners will be eligible for such payments. Neither site is a significant fishing ground “from a whole of state view”, he says, and there are no other businesses in either area.

In a statement, the Tasmanian Fishing Industry Council (TFIC) said it was disappointed that the proposed reserves would mean the loss of “valuable and productive fishing grounds”, but recognized the government had accounted for some industry concerns in forming its plan.

For more information:
Doug Nicol, Wild Fisheries Management Branch, Marine Resources Group, DPIWE, Level 1, 1 Franklin Wharf, Hobart, TAS7000, Australia. Tel: +61 3 6233 6717; E-mail:

Scientists call for protection of deep-sea corals, sponges

Bottom-trawling poses a serious threat to deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems and immediate measures at the national and international level are needed to protect them, according to a statement signed by more than 1000 scientists from 69 countries. Released in February by two US-based conservation organizations, the statement calls on the United Nations to impose a moratorium on bottom-trawling on the high seas, and on individual nations to ban this fishing technique in national waters wherever deep-sea coral and sponge communities are known to exist. The statement also urges nations to support research and mapping of these ecosystems, and establish representative networks of MPAs that include deep-sea corals and sponges. “As marine scientists and conservation biologists, we are profoundly concerned that human activities, particularly bottom-trawling, are causing unprecedented damage to the deep-sea coral and sponge communities on continental plateaus and slopes, and on seamounts and mid-ocean ridges,” it says. To view the statement, visit the website of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute (MCBI) at MCBI and Oceana, another NGO, jointly released the statement.

Report: MPAs needed to protect deep-sea fisheries

In the face of rapid growth in the deep-sea fishing industry, management of its target species has generally failed to ensure sustainability of the resource, and new management strategies – including creation of networks of MPAs – are necessary to stem the depletion, according to a new report published by TRAFFIC Oceania and the Endangered Seas Programme of WWF, an NGO. (TRAFFIC monitors the international trade of wildlife and is a joint program of WWF and IUCN.) Managing Risk and Uncertainty in Deep-Sea Fisheries: Lessons from Orange Roughy uses case studies of orange roughy fisheries around the world to illustrate the need for more precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches to deep-sea fisheries management. “There is some evidence that it may be possible to manage orange roughy fisheries sustainably,” write the authors. “However, it is going to take major changes in the approach to management.” The 73-page report is available online in PDF format (

For more information:
Katherine Short, Endangered Seas Programme, WWF International, Avenue Du Mont-Blanc, Gland, 1196, Switzerland. Tel: +41 22 364 9091; E-mail:

Anna Willock, Senior Fisheries Adviser, TRAFFIC Oceania. Tel: +61 2 9280 1671; E-mail:

Data available on hundreds of marine species

MPA planners and managers who need data on distribution and abundance of marine mammals, sea turtles, or seabirds may find what they need from SEAMAP, a free, web-based project compiling research data from around the world. The project provides taxonomic and geo-referenced data on nearly 200 species so far, as well as access to physical oceanographic data at regional and global scales and software tools for biogeographic analysis.

Project leader Andrew Read of Duke University (US) says SEAMAP may help MPA practitioners and stakeholders to explore reserve-siting options (including through the use of site-selection tools that will be available later this year on the project website), and to better understand the oceanographic context for species distribution. “The project can also help outreach and education efforts by providing basic information on the biology, threats, and conservation status of these animals,” says Read. The project is overseen by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), a worldwide consortium of academic and governmental organizations seeking to make data on marine species freely available on the web. The OBIS-SEAMAP website is at

For more information:
Andrew Read, Duke University Marine Laboratory, 135 Duke Marine Lab Road, Beaufort, NC 28516, USA. Tel: +1 252 504 7590; E-mail:

Atlas available on Brazilian coral reef MPAs

The National Protected Areas Program of Brazil has released a large-format, full-color atlas of the nation’s coral reef MPAs, including dozens of satellite-imaged maps and descriptions of each site. These are the first published maps of Brazilian reef environments. Brazil’s nine coral reef MPAs are distributed along 3000 km on its northeastern coast. To order a free copy of the printed atlas, of which a limited number of copies are available, e-mail Ana Paula Leite Prates (technical advisor to the Protected Areas Program) at

MPA Figures

Percentage of world’s population living within 100 km of:

  • Coastlines 38%
  • Coral reefs 12%
  • Estuaries 27%
  • Mangroves 17%
  • Seagrass beds 19%
  • MPAs 19%

Percentage of MPAs worldwide that include areas of:

  • Coral reefs 25%
  • Estuaries 17%
  • Mangroves 17%
  • Seagrass beds 25%

Source: Sea Around Us project, a partnership between the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia (Canada) and the Pew Charitable Trusts. The data were gathered from analyses of several global databases. For more information: Jackie Alder, Research Associate, Fisheries Centre, 2259 Lower Mall, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada. E-mail: