News + Opinions

Three Ways We're Protecting Coral Reefs in 2021

Oceans
Feb 04 2021
Through groundbreaking science, technology and advocacy, here's how we're giving corals a fighting chance
Matt Curnock / Coral Reef Image Bank

Over the last 50 years, we've lost half of the world's corals. 

A staggering loss in a small fraction of time. Reefs once thriving and bursting with marine life are now bleached or dead, marine life is suffering as a result, and scientists and conservationists are running a race against time to protect and save what's left.

The Great Barrier Reef, the world's most iconic and largest reef system, has seen half of its coral populations wiped out during the past three decades, according to a study published by the Royal Society.

Warming oceans, over-fishing, pollution and a lack of governmental protections around the globe all play a part.  

The facts can seem bleak, but there is hope - and in 2021, Vulcan is more committed than ever to employing new approaches to help corals adapt and recover.

Keep scrolling to learn more about how we're using innovative science, technology and global action to ensure corals can fight this crisis and be here for generations to come.

Enhancing Heat Resilience

We’ve been writing the obituary of coral reefs for many years now. If we don’t take immediate action, there will be no future for coral reefs.

Dr. Sarah Frias-Torres - Coral Reef Program, Vulcan

There's no doubt that climate change is leading to warmer ocean environments, and it's happening at a rapid pace. We're working with world-class scientists to pioneer breakthrough research to ultimately evolve corals that can withstand warming waters.

One of those scientists, the late Dr. Ruth Gates of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, pioneered this research after realizing corals didn't stand a chance without humans stepping in to help.

After winning the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation ocean challenge award in 2013, Gates and fellow scientist Dr. Madeleine van Oppen from the Australian Institute of Marine Science set out to create a heat-resistant "super coral" through breeding and conditioning techniques. It would be the first time that assisted evolution was applied to marine organisms and the idea was not without controversy.

"Human assisted evolution for corals is a radical departure from the conservation perspective traditionally applied in the field," said Gates at the time. "It's often confused with GMO-type approaches in which foreign DNA is introduced, but in reality, we are proposing to accelerate naturally occurring evolutionary processes."

Since then, the research has shown that selective breeding and environmental conditioning improved heat tolerance in corals.

It has "spawned a movement across the world, with now many scientists conducting active research on assisted evolution of corals," said van Oppen. "This is buying us more time for coral reefs until global warming is halted."

We also continue to support researchers doing groundbreaking work on assisted gene flow, which involves crossbreeding coral in a lab using frozen sprem to boost genetic diversity and invigorate global coral populations.

And we're working with scientists on the larval restoration of coral reefs, which aims to speed up the rate of recovery of depleted reefs by "planting" coral larvae among damaged reefs to restore coral poulations around the world.

At a glance: coral reefs

8,000

species supported

25%

marine life rely on corals

$2.7 trillion

in critical services to people

Mapping the World's Reefs
Chris Balzotti

Over time, we’ll be able to determine what corals are bleaching and where, giving us the information needed for response and conservation.

Greg Asner - Director, Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, Arizona State University

Why are some coral reefs more resistant to climate change than others? How could this information help conservationists work faster or encourage better policy around coral conservation?

Paul G. Allen understood that in order to save corals, we needed to fill those gaps in data so that scientists and policymakers could better fight the crisis facing reefs around the globe.

The Allen Coral Atlas, created in 2018, brought together partners from around the globe to use high resolution satellite imagery and advanced analytics to map and monitor the world's coral reefs in unprecedented detail.

“As a technologist, [Allen] saw tremendous data gaps and challenged us to figure out how to apply the emerging availability of satellite imagery to map and monitor the world’s coral reefs. All of them,” said Paulina Gerstner, the Allen Coral Atlas Program Director at Arizona State University. “Our goal is to make conservation restoration and protection much easier, affordable and faster for all conservationists around the world.”

The Atlas aims to have all of the world's reefs mapped by Summer 2021, and the maps and data are available for anyone to view online. 

With this information, conservationists are able to better monitor coral reef health, see where coral reefs are adapting  to climate change, and react more quickly to bleaching events.
 

At a glance: Allen Coral Atlas

100%

Tropical reefs mapped by Summer 2021

Inspiring Global Action
The Ocean Agency

There is hope to save these critical ecosystems. It's a matter of resource allocation that needs to match the scope and urgency of the situation.

Bill Hilf, CEO Vulcan

Protecting coral reefs is critical for the survival of our planet. Found in the waters of over 100 countries and territories, corals provide for a quarter of all marine life, and support a billion people worldwide. Yet, despite their immense value and vulnerability, the world is just waking up to the crisis facing coral reefs.  

The fact that less than 3 percent of the world’s reefs are currently protected highlight the urgent need for governments, communities, and partners to do more. But safeguarding coral reefs requires more than just creating and expanding marine reserves to save these ecosystems. To change the long-term trajectory of coral reef health, we need stronger policies and more dedicated resources focused on coral reef conservation and management. 

That’s why we’re working with the International Coral Reef Initiative to galvanize political will and action around corals ahead of this year’s Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) CoP15, an international treaty focused on conservation. Ensuring corals are rightly prioritized will set the course for coral conservation and restoration for decades to come. 

We’re also working to catalyze a blended private/public investment model for coral reef conservation. The Global Fund for Coral Reefs is the first global fund that leverages multi-partner financial capital and investment for coral reefs. Through a global partnership including countries, private foundations, UN organizations, and private businesses, the fund seeks to raise and invest $500 million over the next 10 years. 

Ultimately, this money will support businesses and finance mechanisms that improve the health and sustainability of coral reefs while empowering local communities at the same time. 

At A Glance: The Global Fund for Coral Reefs 

$500 million

goal in support of coral reef restoration