Coral Reef Futures for the Pacific

21 September 2017, Apia, Samoa – In the light of the predicted adverse impacts of warming oceans on coral reefs, the long-term health of Pacific reefs depends on strong leadership and sound management. New actions and tools to support reef resilience were launched today in a special event as part of the annual meeting of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

This event was supported by France, as part of its contributions to improving management of coral reefs and coastal and marine environments, globally and in the Pacific. France is also the current Chair of the Secretariat for the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI). Jean-Luc Fauré-Tournaire, Deputy Permanent Representative to SPREP and SPC, presented and promoted the work of ICRI, also announcing the ICRI 2018 International Year of the Reef (IYOR).

'Designation of 2018 as the third International Year of the Reef provides an opportunity for a worldwide campaign to raise awareness about the value and importance of coral reefs and threats to their sustainability; and to motivate governments, communities and people to act to protect them,' said Mr Fauré-Tournaire.

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Ms Maria Satoa-Peni, Principal Marine Conservation Officer, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Samoa, Ms Isabelle Louis, Deputy Regional Director of UN Environment Asia-Pacific, Mr Jean-Luc Fauré-Tournaire, Deputy Permanent Representative to SPREP and SPC, and Mr Warren Lee Long, Coastal and Marine Adviser, SPREP. Photo: T.Straza

Warren Lee Long, Coastal and Marine Adviser at SPREP, presented results of the recent coral reef status update, which was conducted by a partnership of the French coral reef research institute CRIOBE in French Polynesia, SPREP, UN Environment and the French Ministry of Environment.

"Overall regional declines in coral cover, accompanied by increases in algae mostly appeared in areas under human pressures, but global climate impacts on coral reefs also add to these pressures, however the study highlighted greater capacity and widespread effort in monitoring coral reefs needed to improve our understanding of impacts in different countries and locations," said Mr. Lee Long.

The United Nations Environment Programme also released new tools to support management for reef resilience in two publications launched at the event. The Coral Bleaching Futures report and The Guide to Assessing Coral Reef Resilience for Decision Support are designed to support reef management decisions, using new datasets and a strong assessment process.

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"While all reefs are vulnerable to climate change, the Coral Bleaching Futures report gives us a much more detailed picture of vulnerability," said Ms. Isabelle Louis, Deputy Regional Director of UN Environment Asia-Pacific. "It also enables identification of reefs that are likely to be impacted by frequent bleaching much later than others. Such 'refugia' of resilient corals may be priorities for conservation. Using these data and a strong assessment method, leaders can protect our most valuable reefs and the ecosystem services they provide."

The Coral Bleaching Futures report provides a regional summary of the state of coral reefs for the Pacific. The report also provides suggestions for use of the data, including Marine Spatial Planning and Marine Protected Areas, which will promote reef resilience from impacts such as fisheries and coastal development.

Ms. Maria Satoa, Principal Marine Conservation Officer at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Samoa, stressed the value of building national capacity and described training in SCUBA diving and Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) methods that was undertaken for Samoan staff, funded by the Global Environment Facility – Pacific Alliance for Sustainability (GEF-PAS) project.

"When Samoa experienced mass coral bleaching and an outbreak of the crown of thorns starfish (COT) in 2015, we conducted surveys around the reefs which were badly affected. We were surprised to find some sites that appeared to be resilient to bleaching, where no COTs were present. The guide to assess resilient coral reef areas launched today is an important document that would help with the development of Samoa's coral bleaching response plan," said Ms. Satoa.

The Guide to Assessing Coral Reef Resilience for Decision Support provides a step-by-step process for designing and implementing resilience assessments that support or underpin concrete management and policy interventions.

For more information, please contact Mr Warren Lee Long at warrenl@sprep.org
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