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June 7, 2021

World Needs Alternatives to Protect Rainforests of the Sea: Policy Brief

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Countries have negotiated over 230 international agreements with provisions on coral reefs, but none have effectively protected them, according to a policy brief by Teya Penniman, IISD. The vulnerable “rainforests of the sea,” reefs are in sharp decline due to climate change and localized stressors.

The brief titled ‘Coral Reefs: Strategies for Ecosystems on the Edge,’ is part of the ‘Still Only One Earth’ series being published in the lead-up to Stockholm+50.

The author explains that coral is damaged by higher water temperatures and ocean acidification, which result from climate change. Additional stressors can originate locally, such as overfishing, the use of dynamite or poisons for fishing, sedimentation from deforestation, pollution, and marine invasive species. Deep-sea corals face additional harm from oil and gas exploration and bottom trawling.

“Unless we remove or reduce local stressors and simultaneously address climate change, we will lose these ancient, colonial animals that protect our coasts from wave surges. We will lose the livelihoods that depend on them. And we will lose the abundance of marine life that call coral reefs home.”

The brief identifies success stories in reducing reef vulnerability to local stressors and climate change, with examples from Belize, Bali, American Samoa, and Hawai’i, US. The brief also lists some of the many global targets on coral reefs contained in a wide variety of international agreements. Penniman asks, “but is this patchwork approach working?” In fact, half of the 600 commitments are non-binding, and implementation is lacking.

She suggests that a binding global agreement on coral reef protection would bring several benefits, including international attention, political will for implementation, a financing mechanism, and a framework for indicators and commitments. However, reaching such an agreement would take time and resources that coral reefs may not be able to wait for.

Among the alternatives are: accelerating implementation; strengthening the existing international policy framework; and rapid support to states for policy implementation. Highlighting two sources of hope, the author reports that a new fund was launched in September 2020 to invest USD 500 million over ten years to conserve coral reefs, and the heads of state of 14 countries are working together as the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, formed in December 2020, to achieve 100% sustainable ocean management of areas within their respective national jurisdictions by 2025.

Other briefs in the series of policy briefs focus on biodiversity, wildlife trade, sustainable energy, finance and technology, climate change, plastic pollution, poverty eradication, measurement approaches, private sector action, public health, blue economy, gender equality, extended producer responsibility, regional governance of seas, biosafety, and transport, among other issues. [Publication: Coral Reefs: Strategies for Ecosystems on the Edge] [Still Only One Earth policy brief series]