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Saving the world's coral reef ecosystems

Coral reefs, often teeming with marine life, are among nature's most delicate organisms. A healthy coral reef can contain thousands of species; unfortunately, they are coming under immense pressure and their very survival is at risk. An international team of researchers jointl...

Coral reefs, often teeming with marine life, are among nature's most delicate organisms. A healthy coral reef can contain thousands of species; unfortunately, they are coming under immense pressure and their very survival is at risk. An international team of researchers jointly led by Newcastle University, UK, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, US, have identified where conservation efforts should be focused if coral reefs are to be saved. Coral reefs around the world are under threat. Increases in temperature of even as little as one or two degrees can cause coral bleaching or can even magnify the effects of infectious diseases, killing off huge sections of coral. Certain fishing techniques, such as the use of dynamite, are also responsible for the destruction of coral reefs. For this reason No-Take Areas (NTAs) were set up not only to protect the fish, but the coral reefs they inhabit. According to the latest research, however, the location of these NTAs needs to be reviewed and updated. An international team of researchers from Australia, France, Sweden, the UK and the US were brought together to conduct one of the largest studies of its kind. Together they investigated NTAs covering 66 sites across 7 countries in the Indian Ocean. Their research was published in the journal PLoS ONE. What they discovered was that conservation zones are now located in the wrong place leaving some coral reefs vulnerable to the effects of climate change. According to lead researcher Nick Graham, from Newcastle University's School of Marine Science and Technology, urgent action is needed. 'We need a whole new approach - and we need to act now,' he said. The research showed that all existing NTAs should remain as such; however, new zones are needed to protect other coral reefs. 'Our research shows that many of the world's existing no-take areas are in the wrong place. New protected zones are needed that focus on areas identified as escaping or recovering well from climate change impacts. But a major focus needs to be shifted towards increasing the resilience of the system as a whole - that means reducing as many other locally derived threats as possible,' continued Mr Graham. A holistic ecosystem management system also needs to be put in place if coral reefs are to survive. 'Coral dies when it is put under stress so what we need to be doing is reducing the direct human impact - such as over-fishing, pollution and sedimentation - across the whole area,' he said. 'By removing all these other stresses we are giving the coral the best chance of surviving and recovering from any changes in temperature that may occur as a result of global warming.'

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Australia, France, Sweden, United States

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