Major Approaches to Coral Reef Preservation
As with any complex issue, coral reef preservation is being approached by nonprofits, governments and academic institutions from several angles. These tactics include:
- Scientific research.
Central to the solution to coral reef preservation is scientific research. Researchers monitor and assess the health of the reef and can prioritize areas for intervention. However, scientific research is often underfunded as governments in particular don’t always see it as actively addressing the problem.
There are a number of universities and research bodies doing vital research to monitor and document the health of coral reefs around the world. Most research is regionally based and welcomes additional funding. Some institutions doing especially important work on local coral reefs include:
- The ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Australia. While they certainly research and work to protect the Great Barrier Reef, the ARC Center is also a respected coordinator of the work of marine scientists working on coral reefs around the world.
- Costal Oceans Research and Development—Indian Ocean (CORDIO). This is an organization based in Mombasa, Kenya. Importantly, CORDIO is an established, research-based nonprofit that works solely in the Indian Ocean. This means that staff are locals who not only know the fish and other marine wildlife they work with, but they are also from the communities that benefit from healthy reefs. CORDIO offers internships to local students and is focused on “mitigating the effects of climate change by improving evidence-based decision making to manage ecosystems sustainably.”
- The establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
Perhaps the most common way governments go about trying to protect coral reefs is by declaring them Marine Sanctuaries or Marine Protected Areas (MPA). The problem is that a great number of these MPA’s become what’s called ‘paper tigers,’ meaning they are protected areas in name only and enjoy little or no oversight or law enforcement protection.
However, there are several organisations working to enforce regulations over MPAs and even monitor them themselves.
Oracabessa Foundation. This organization was recommended by a contact at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). It is a local foundation, established for the development and protection of the town of Oracabessa, Jamaica. A major benefactor is in fact Bob Marley’s former manager.
What is important about Oracabessa, is that it works on local economic development and education in addition to protecting costal waters, including a local fish sanctuary. The area is closed to fishing and has seen an impressive rise in the number of fish and corals since the protection was established.
Bluefields Bay. This is another Jamaican community-based organization. The sanctuary is run by Bluefield’s Bay Fishermans Friendly Society, which was established in 2004 following Hurricane Ivan and rose out of the need of the local community (including many fishermen) to recover from the effects of the disaster. The Society invests in community initiatives such as housing, construction of new boats and enforcement and monitoring of the costal waters. They are currently hoping to replace all local fishing nets with a wider mesh version that doesn’t cause undue harm to the wildlife.
Blue Ventures. This organization is based in London, but works with marine protected areas particularly in southern Africa. Blue Ventures is committed to the model of locally managed marine protected areas, and they try to transfer lessons learned to other areas. Interestingly, Blue Ventures is heavily funded by foundations and receives very little income from private donations. It’s won a lot of awards for its approach, though, and it is clearly interested in scaling up, given enough funding.
- Stakeholder engagement and coordination.
Important to any issue that affects a global population, is international cooperation and coordination. There are quite a few bodies—both nonprofit and governmental—that seek to share best practices, further research and advocate for coral reefs on a global level. Some of these include:
The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL). I know that you’ve supported this well-regarded organization in the past. I contacted CORAL to ask them a bit more about their work and they were very helpful. They definitely see themselves as “conveners, collaborators and educators” although they do have local staff and contractors around the world working on reef conservation and protection, primarily through marine protected areas.
What concerns me slightly about CORAL is that it is based in Oakland, CA, and its leadership is decidedly American. They are clearly doing important work, but I’m not sure why they need to be based in one of the most expensive cities in the country. While alliance-building work is critical to global issues like coral reef preservation, it’s also really tough to evaluate. Would coordination between parties working on coral conservation have happened without CORAL? How much value are they really adding from such a distance, and does it justify California salaries and resources?
Again, I can see no reason not to support CORAL, but at least a portion of your donation might be more effectively put to use elsewhere.
- Slowing climate change.
This is of course the elephant in the room when it comes to coral reef conservation. Protecting coral reefs from destructive fishing practices and building the resilience of local communities can only go so far in protecting fragile reefs. It’s the rising temperature of the water that is doing the most damage.
Certainly there are any number of organizations around the world working on climate change. A few are working on it while holding up the damage done to coral reefs as evidence. The Australian Marine Conservation Society is one with an especially good reputation.