Written by PhD student Charlie Davies from SCENARIO DTP
Hope blooms at COP28 as island voices, innovators and investors discuss solutions for restoration and resilience of coral reef islands.
Ocean day at this years’ COP has not only highlighted the critical need to take urgent action to protect our oceans from climate change, but also the role the ocean can play in climate solutions. This was demonstrated in ‘The Future is Blue: Innovation for Coral Reef Futures’ panel in the Ocean Pavilion, where hope for the future was restored for coral reef islands.
Throughout the tropics, there are thousands of coral reef islands, that support the lives of more than a billion people, and about 25% of all marine species1. Yet, due to rising ocean temperatures, and increased frequency of extreme events, these islands are at the front line of the climate crisis.
Evii Tong, a Research Assistant at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution from the Republic of Kiribati, brought both a harrowing and inspiring story to the panel. He shared his personal experience witnessing the devastating effects of climate change on his hometown and the coral reefs of the islands.
He stated that this is:
“a reminder to us that climate change is not something we are facing in the future, for us as the frontliners of climate change, it’s something we are facing today, and we should do something about it”.
Despite his experience, Evii brought hope into the conversation. Through his research on corals in the southern line islands, he explained that after an immense heat wave in 2016, the corals displayed recovery after just 3 years. This demonstrates the capacity of coral reefs to be resilient against climate change, placing emphasis on the hope for their survival.
The panel offered additional glimpses of optimism, when Monique Vernon, from Fragments of Hope, shared her research into “rebuilding the reef from rubbles” in southern Belize. She explained that she has seen corals that are 99% dead, revived, showing their remarkable resilience.
This optimism was further reiterated by Bodhi Patil, from Ocean Uprise, Parley for the Oceans, who stated:
“even if a coral is 99% bleached or even if it is on the brink of death, it can come back to life”.
Not only is the resilience of coral a source of hope for coral reef islands, but also the emergence of innovative solutions in coastal protection and ocean energy that benefit both people and coral.
Alex Berkowitz, CEO of Coastal Protection Solutions, added “there is hope for coastal communities and coral reefs”, following her heartfelt account of the challenges faced by her hometown, Rockaway Beach, New York, after Hurricane Sandy hit.
After seeing the destruction, she was inspired to create the ‘Wavebreaker’, a revolutionary metal ‘wave speedbump’ that can be used to protect coastal areas and reefs from devastating storm surges and hence leading to the regeneration of coral reefs.
Another innovation that could benefit coral reefs is the adoption of ‘TidalWatt’, a new technology created by Professor Mauricio Queiroz. These underwater turbines not only generate renewable energy from ocean currents, but also act as anchoring structures for corals. In this way, they promote the formation of reefs by providing new habitats and increasing marine biodiversity.
Many of these innovative projects show great progress and potential for protection of our coral reef systems. Although it’s evident that these ecosystems are resilient, they are still severely impacted by the climate crisis.
Similar projects all over the world are being developed, however, their wider implementation has faced several difficulties. One of these issues is a lack of localised expertise. Many of these projects have great potential, but are missing community support, which could easily be fostered by including local experts from the region who would inspire greater community participation.
‘’We need community involvement. Without having the support of our communities, our projects would fail’’ said Alex Berkowitz, CEO of Coastal Protection Solutions Inc.
As we have seen many times throughout COP28, money is the main limiting factor for many local projects. “If we could get money and communities then we would be off to a really incredible start,” said Alex Berkowitz.
Fortunately, COP28 has seen the creation of the 100% Sustainable Ocean Management Target and the expansion of the Ocean Action 2030 coalition. The inclusion of more supporting countries should provide the finance that is so desperately needed to ensure the success of these projects.
As Bodhi Patil, from Ocean Uprise, Parley for the Oceans said:
“It’s not about competition anymore, it’s about coming together to build the most resilient solutions for our future, because that is damn needed”.
- , (2021) Visual feature: Status of coral reefs of the world, UNEP. Available at: https://www.unep.org/interactives/status-world-coral-reefs/ (Accessed: 09 December 2023).