Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Climate change and the limits of reef restoration

Last week's NY Times had a feature article on coral reef restoration, namely growing corals in tanks and transplanting them to degraded reefs. This was my response, printed in today's Science Times:

Re “Coral Is Dying. Can It Be Reborn?” (May 1): The coral farming and transplantation efforts described in Cornelia Dean’s article may prove useful in restoring individual patches of reef in popular tourist sites. However, such labor-intensive and costly coral reef restoration work is no match for the threat that global climate change poses to coral reefs worldwide.

Hundreds of millions of people in the developing world who depend on coral reefs for food, income and shelter from ocean waves will suffer. Perhaps we should focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, rather than protecting our favorite dive spots.

We should not delude ourselves into thinking that we can regenerate the world's coral reefs by transplantation. The article alludes to that point (and includes some good quotes from Nancy Knowlton) but the grand headline and large photos give another impression.

What the article misses entirely is the inequity of restoration efforts. This is an example of where the developing world is not only experiencing greater impacts of climate change, it is receiving less of the adaptation money.

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