Why Do Large Reefscapes Matter?

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Threats to reefs collage

Threats to reefs: overgrown diatoms, sedimentation pollution, bleached coral

Coral reefs face many natural and human-caused threats. In March 2017, a British-owned cruise ship ran aground at Raj Ampat causing significant damage to roughly 1,600 square meters of coral reefs. Recent studies in West Maui have shown that land-based pollution is reducing water quality and covering corals in sediment. Extensive coverage about bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef reminds us that these delicate ecosystems are in crisis.

Fortunately, we have a solution that will help corals grow, reproduce and continue to build reefs. We can create Adaptive Reefscapes, which are networks of healthy reefs that is Diverse, Connected and Large. But what’s the right size for an Adaptive Reefscape? It turns out that there may be a Goldilocks solution that’s not too big and not too small.

Adaptive Reefscapes should be as big as possible to reduce problems caused by large disturbances; a small Reefscape might be at risk from one major hurricane or bleaching event, but a large Reefscape is more likely to include some reefs that are unharmed and can be sources of future recolonization. Large Reefscapes are also more likely to include lots of different kinds of reefs and corals. This diversity, which we described previously, acts as options for the future. Conversely, if a Reefscape is too big, baby corals will not be able to spread readily from one reef to the next, slowing down the potential for adaptation. By creating Adaptive Reefscapes that balance the need to be large and connected, we can find a Goldilocks solution that’s just right.

Mesoamerican Reef

Sample Adaptive Reefscape, Mesoamerican Reef

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