What We Learned: Collaboration with Local Communities has the Biggest Impact on Reef Conservation

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On the Global Reef Expedition, we prioritized using a collaborative approach to study and map coral reefs by partnering with scientific and local experts in each of the countries we visited. While the scientific team was conducting surveys underwater, we also implemented various outreach and education programs in parallel to improve ocean literacy and inspire the next generation of ocean advocates. The partnerships we formed allowed us to exchange knowledge and learn how local communities were using and managing their marine resources.

One of the biggest take-aways from the GRE was that nearly every community we worked with expressed, and continues to express, the want and need for conservation of their reef systems. Working directly with communities, sharing findings, using our education and outreach programs, and expanding on the current management efforts has proven to be the most successful in conserving the reefs visited on the GRE.

What We Learned: Marine Protected Areas Work in Conserving Coral Reefs

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Managing marine resources is a challenge for communities around the globe. On the Global Reef Expedition, we had the opportunity to visit protected and unprotected reefs in both remote locations and those regularly used by humans. The degree of protection varied, but we found that areas with the highest protection had the healthiest reefs.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are a tool commonly used by governments and communities to manage their marine resources. An MPA can have varying degrees of regulations, including no-take and no-entry where no fishing is allowed and entrance into the park is not permitted, to varying permitted use that regulate the fishing and use practices. Some of the countries we visited, such as Australia (Northern Great Barrier Reef), Palau, and New Caledonia have large human populations utilizing the reefs and have prioritized establishing large protected and managed areas to conserve their nearshore reef systems.

Findings from the Global Reef Expedition: Swift Action is Needed to Address Climate Change

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Climate change is affecting oceans globally, but many believe coral reefs are the world’s “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to irreversible damage resulting from climate impacts.

To understand the mechanisms of climate change, it is important to look at the history of carbon emissions. In the 1880s, the industrial revolution catalyzed the use of carbon-based fuel and helped advance human civilization in ways very few could imagine. However, one downside to this advancement was the exponential release and trapping of carbon in our atmosphere, usually in the form of carbon dioxide. For the past 140 years, this accumulation has resulted in substantial changes to the Earth’s climate.

The Earth’s ocean is a net carbon sink, meaning it absorbs more carbon than it releases. Within the ocean, there are many chemical changes that can occur as the amount of carbon dioxide is dissolved into the water. One of the most common changes is a decrease in the ocean’s pH as it becomes more acidic as more CO2 is absorbed, a term commonly referred to as ocean acidification (OA). This decrease in pH has led to numerous physiological problems in marine animals, particularly calcifying organisms like those found on coral reefs.

Our Living Oceans: Threats to Our Oceans, now playing on EarthxTV!

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Throughout the Global Reef Expedition, the Living Oceans Foundation observed signs of declining ocean health and its impact on coral reefs and coastal marine ecosystems. What are the biggest threats to our ocean, and what can be done to protect it?

Find out in the 4th episode of Our Living Oceans, now playing on EarthxTV!

Tune in to hear from experts from the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation and our fellow scientists and conservation leaders working around the world to protect and restore ocean health.

This episode features many scientists and partners who joined us on the Global Reef Expedition, as well as renowned marine scientists Dr. Daniel Pauly, Dr. Ben Halpern, and Dr. Nancy Knowlton. In this episode, you will also hear from celebrated deep-sea explorer, Her Deepness Dr. Sylvia Earle, about her hopes for the future of our ocean.

Watch Our Living Oceans online or on the EarthxTV app today, and discover the hidden life within our living oceans.

Survey of the World’s Reefs Reveals the Extent of the Coral Reef Crisis

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Today, after spending ten years assessing the state of coral reefs around the world, the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation has released a comprehensive report of our findings from the Global Reef Expedition. The Global Reef Expedition Final Report provides valuable baseline data on the status of the world’s reefs at a critical point in time and offers key insights into how to save coral reefs in a rapidly changing world.

Both natural and man-made factors have contributed to a precipitous decline in coral reefs as coastal development, pollution, disease, severe storms, and climate change have all impacted the health of coral reefs. As oceans continue to warm, and massive coral bleaching events occur with increasing frequency and severity, coral reefs are struggling to survive. Scientists estimate that half of the world’s coral reefs have been lost in the last 40 years. Coral reefs are clearly in crisis. How do we save the reefs that remain before it is too late?

The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation embarked on the Global Reef Expedition to address this coral reef crisis. This research mission brought together hundreds of scientists from around the world to conduct tens of thousands of standardized scientific surveys at over 1,000 reefs in 16 countries. The Expedition traveled around the globe surveying and mapping coral reefs, from the Red Sea through the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Scientists on the research mission worked closely with local experts, managers, educators, and government officials to help the Foundation collect the data needed to develop science-based solutions to conservation.

The Global Reef Expedition at the IUCN World Conservation Congress

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The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation’s Director of Science Management, Alex Dempsey, had the prestigious opportunity to present at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France. Her presentation, entitled “The Global Reef Expedition (GRE): Circumnavigating the Globe to Address the Coral Reef Crisis,” focused on the plight of coral reefs and how the Global Reef Expedition assessed the state of coral reefs around the world.

Held once every four years, the IUCN World Conservation Congress brings together “several thousand leaders and decision-makers from government, civil society, indigenous peoples, business, and academia, with the goal of conserving the environment and harnessing the solutions nature offers to global challenges.” As coral reefs are rapidly declining globally due to a host of different stressors such as climate change and overfishing, they are a key example of a critical habitat in need of global awareness and protection using a multifaceted approach of conservation disciplines and stakeholder involvement. The presentation highlighted how the GRE was meticulously planned under the framework of Science Without Borders©, and the foundation’s three-pronged approach of using scientific research, education, and outreach to address the coral reef crisis. In each country the GRE visited, an international team of scientists together with local leaders, conservationists, government officials, and subject matter experts worked in tandem to assess the state of the reefs.

Watch “Our Living Oceans” on EarthXTV

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EarthxTV presents a new original series, airing on September 6th that reveals the hidden life within our oceans. In partnership with the Khaled bin Sultan Oceans Foundation (KSLOF), Our Living Oceans engages scientists, conservationists, and local leaders from around the world who are working to preserve, protect and restore ocean health. Episodes feature HRH Princess Hala bint Khaled bin Sultan, National Geographic explorer-in-residence Dr. Sylvia Earle, Dr. Ved Chirayath of the NASA Ames Research Center and many more at the front line of ocean research, education and outreach.

The Last Great Coral Reef Wilderness

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The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation led a research mission to study reefs in the last great coral reef wilderness on Earth, traveling to the Chagos Archipelago in 2015 as part of the Global Reef Expedition. This scientific research mission circumnavigated the globe to address the coral reef crisis and gain a better understanding of the health and resiliency of coral reefs in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Over the course of two months at sea, scientists aboard the Global Reef Expedition conducted thousands of surveys of the benthic and reef fish communities at over 100 locations across the Chagos Archipelago. Only a handful of research missions have had the opportunity to explore the reefs of Chagos, and some of the reefs visited on the Expedition had never been surveyed by scientists before.

One priority for the Global Reef Expedition was to study reefs with minimal human disturbance, and there was no better place on Earth to do that than the Chagos Archipelago. Some estimates indicate these reefs could contain more than half of the healthy reefs remaining in the Indian Ocean. Because of its remote location and protected status, Chagos was the perfect place to explore global issues such as climate change and overfishing that threaten the long-term survival of coral reefs. By studying these relatively pristine reefs, the scientists wanted to add to their knowledge about the coral reef crisis, and were eager to see how coral reefs could thrive without the impacts of these other major disturbances.

Protecting Palau’s Reefs

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For thousands of years, Palauans have practiced “bul,” which is a traditional method of ecosystem conservation. In this practice, coastal communities will close areas to fishing and prohibit access for a designated amount of time, though not indefinitely. This traditional practice has become the basis for a large network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in Palau. Most marine conservation efforts in Palau are led by individual states, which established their first internationally recognized marine conservation area as far back as the 1950s. Since then, many states have established MPAs and the national government of Palau has implemented large scale MPAs offshore, protecting 80% of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) from commercial fishing.

Conservation in New Caledonia

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The conservation efforts of New Caledonia are some of the most progressive we’ve seen in the South Pacific. There is a clear commitment from the government, Provinces, and local communities to conserve their marine resources. One way of doing this was through the establishment of Le Parc Naturel de la Mer de Corail. This park was designated to protect the natural and cultural heritage of New Caledonia, enforce sustainable use of its marine resources, and develop an internationally recognized marine conservation area that will contribute to the conservation of marine habitats globally.