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Celebrating Pantone’s 2019 Color of the Year: Living Coral

For an ocean and climate scientist, strides to protect living coral offers optimism

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© Jayne Jenkins

Pantone’s Color of the Year—Living Coral—echoes Ocean Conservancy’s hope and optimism for the ocean in 2019.

“But wait,” you might be thinking, “I thought coral reefs are in trouble!”

You’d be right, of course, because coral reefs are in danger. What might be new to you is that there are ambitious solutions and bold action underway to save them.

First, a recap of the bad news.

Since the 1980s, the global average of reef cover has decreased by 20-50%. The culprits are habitat destruction, pollution, overfishing, disease and climate change. Periods of extreme heat are especially dangerous for tropical reefs. For example, late in 2018, an early heat wave hit the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and fueled early predictions of another bad bleaching season to come. The full effect of the Southern Hemisphere summer on the reef will be clearer in the next few weeks.

And now, the good news.

More strategies are being tested to help coral. “Gardening” of baby corals in protected environments, then planting them out on reefs to grow to adulthood, is being tested at ever larger scales. Scientists are breeding corals that are thought to be tougher in the face of environmental change to see if they can help repopulate damaged reefs. A large bed of seagrass was discovered near the GBR that helps remove carbon pollution from the local area and decreases the effect of acidification on nearby coral animals.

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© Fabrice Dudenhofer

In late 2018, a team of experts gathered by the National Academies of Science (NAS) reviewed 18 different high-tech interventions like genetics, population biology and local environmental alterations. The report provides risks and limitations, as well as how achievable the interventions are with current or near-future technology. It also offers a fantastic “decision tree” based on a series of questions to help coral reef managers identify potential interventions that could be most successful.

This compilation was a big project, one that was sorely needed.

More and more leaders are taking action to protect marine systems from the effects of climate change. California released its own fourth Climate Assessment in the fall, followed by a comprehensive plan outlining what the state will do to take action on ocean acidification. At COP24, numerous events and groups focused on ocean action, promoting coordination and attention to the links between the ocean, climate action, and human well-being.

All in all, it looks like the cooperative energy and increasing focus on our ocean will truly make 2019 the year to celebrate Living Coral.

Watch this space for more coral updates!

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