Avoiding coral reef functional collapse requires local and global action

Emma V. Kennedy, Chris T. Perry, Paul R. Halloran, Roberto Iglesias-Prieto, Christine H.L. Schönberg, Max Wisshak, Armin U. Form, Juan P. Carricart-Ganivet, Maoz Fine, C. Mark Eakin, Peter J. Mumby*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

236 Scopus citations


Coral reefs face multiple anthropogenic threats, from pollution and overfishing to the dual effects of greenhouse gas emissions: rising sea temperature and ocean acidification [1]. While the abundance of coral has declined in recent decades [2, 3], the implications for humanity are difficult to quantify because they depend on ecosystem function rather than the corals themselves. Most reef functions and ecosystem services are founded on the ability of reefs to maintain their three-dimensional structure through net carbonate accumulation [4]. Coral growth only constitutes part of a reef's carbonate budget; bioerosion processes are influential in determining the balance between net structural growth and disintegration [5, 6]. Here, we combine ecological models with carbonate budgets and drive the dynamics of Caribbean reefs with the latest generation of climate models. Budget reconstructions using documented ecological perturbations drive shallow (6-10 m) Caribbean forereefs toward an increasingly fragile carbonate balance. We then projected carbonate budgets toward 2080 and contrasted the benefits of local conservation and global action on climate change. Local management of fisheries (specifically, no-take marine reserves) and the watershed can delay reef loss by at least a decade under "business-as-usual" rises in greenhouse gas emissions. However, local action must be combined with a low-carbon economy to prevent degradation of reef structures and associated ecosystem services.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)912-918
Number of pages7
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - 20 May 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was funded by the European Union project FORCE, a NERC grant, and an ARC Laureate Fellowship to P.J.M. We thank R.S. Steneck and G. Stoyle for providing photographs for Figure 1 , G.N. Murphy for comments, I.C. Chollett for programming edits, J.R. Stevens for additional student supervision, and G. Roff for help with the figures. The manuscript contents are solely the opinions of the authors and do not constitute a statement of policy, decision, or position on behalf of NOAA or the United States government.


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