Coral Resilience

by RobinHood on November 10, 2017 - 8:24pm

Over 70 percent of tropical reefs worldwide have been subject to coral bleaching over the past several years, but it seems as if that may be coming to an end. Not to say that coral reefs are in the clear and that no more bleaching will occur –a forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggests that the high ocean temperatures that cause bleaching are no longer as widespread as they once were in the Indian Ocean. Though, there still exists heat stress in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans which include the Great Barrier Reef among many others. Some of the bleaching can be attributed to the unusually strong El Nino event that occurred in 2015. Prior to 2015, the last two major bleaching events occurred in 2010 and 1998 which coincidentally coincided with El Nino years.

One thing to note is that in 1998 and 2010 the bleaching only occurred for one year. While in 2015 the bleaching has occurred for multiple years. In parts of the United States, such as Florida, bleaching has occurred in rapid succession causing two years of continuous bleaching. It's good news that some parts of the world are not experiencing coral bleaching at the moment – though, it has been hypothesized that with the continuing progression of climate change it will become more frequent and severe for coral bleaching events to occur. In addition, the more frequent these events are the worse it can get for reefs because corals require a long time to recover.

Climate change is one of today’s largest environmental issues and regulation of emissions and control of societal culture, when it comes to sustainable living, is at the forefront of policy in much of the world. The problem here is that this policy work needs to start spreading to more locations in the world. Now not all news is bad. Some scientists say in the next few years we will see a change in the dynamic of coral reefs. The hardier corals and emerging species will start to thrive. With that, scientists believe it is unlikely for coral reefs to disappear entirely. With active management of the reefs on more than just climate change threats, but also overfishing and pollution, the reefs can stay colourful for years to come.

One thing that is certain here is the need to aid in the recovery of coral reefs. Since the effects of climate change are ever progressing there needs to be an adaptive management plan in place to create policy and monitor actions and refine that policy if what the scientists believe, with a new dynamic of coral reefs imminent, actually happens.

On a regional scale, there needs to exist economic and regulatory instruments in place by state agencies. They need to utilize legislation to prohibit overfishing and destructive fishing. With cyanide being dropped to stun fish and make them easier to catch, it damages and kills corals. In addition, it has been extensively noted that fishers often end up breaking corals when trying to gather up the fish they have just stunned. Along with that the nets dragged through the water damage ecosystems as they capture or simply destroy anything in their way.

With policy restricting these types of fishing methods and penalties in place to police such activity the reefs we have left will begin to thrive again. Furthermore, this can be coupled with economic regulations that can look to tax pollution into waters with living coral reefs and incentivise fishing that does not harm the reef ecosystems. As adaptive management this can be implemented and then taken away slowly as societal culture starts to change.



Harvey, Chelsea. “A Massive and Unprecedented Coral Bleaching Event May Finally Be Coming to an End.”, Hamilton Spectator, 21 June 2017,

“Overfishing and Destructive Fishing Threats.” Reef Resilience, 25 July 2017,