Global Enviornment: Case Study Coral Reefs

  • “Sustainable practices are essential if we are to continue our current rate of development whilst retaining environmental quality” – Dr. Rothlisberg (CSIRO)
  • “Functional ecosystem management must integrate three concepts: economic prosperity, environmental health and social justice.” – Tim Flannery

Global Environment Case Study: Coral Reefs

  • “rainforests of the reef”
  • most fragile ecosystem on Earth due to highly specific nature and availability for destruction.
  • Long broken belts made up of the coral plants – often goes on for thousands of k’s (eg) GBR, Australia, West Coast of Africa, Hawaii.
  • Most biologically diverse ecosystem – holds many species of fauna and flora, many rare (eg) downfish reef turtles, coral fish.
  • Biophysical Requirements:

-shallow water so that they can get sunlight needed to photosynthesize

-Very clean water

-Temperatures of 25-29 – can wither and die under 1 degree temp. changes


Climate Change

  • Have survived natural climate change for past 56,000 years, (eg) survive through last Ice Age 12,000 years ago.
  • However, due to industrial revolution of past 200 years and globalization’s influence in past 50 years, global warming is severely threatening coral reefs.
  • Temperatures have increased 1.5 degrees in last 100 years à coral withers and dies.
  • 1998 – hottest year ever recorded – 80% of Maldives lost, 50% of GBR lost, 45% Kenyan Coast lost.

Agricultural Runoff

  • As land becomes inctreasingly urbanized (from 5% 200 years ago to 50% today, up to 90% in some Nth countries) fertilizer, pesticide and nutrient runoff vastly increased.
  • Particularly in farm areas were chemical use is high, also in tourism areas where fuel boats are common.
  • Nutrients make way untreated into water flow à entrophycation (too much food) occurs and marine snow is formed which smothers and chokes coral.
  • (eg) GBR, Australia will lose 30% of its remaining reef to marine snow by 2030 as it has a $2bil. tourism industry à needs sustainability.


  • Overfishing for tourist needs reduces biodiversity and resistance of ecosystem to damage (eg) conch shell issue
  • Conch shells make high profits in the tourism industry and were highly farmed in 60’s/70’s for profit –. Hunted to endangered status.
  • This knowledge was not known until C.O.T. disaster in 60’s/70’s.
  • The conch fish hunt the Crown of Thorns species à when the conch get to low levels in number the C.O.T. smother and eat the coral.
  • This was found in GBR and confirmed by research in the coral belts of Florida Keys.
  • Now illegal to hunt conch shell under CITES.
  • However, poor Sth nations often fish them anyway due to poverty.


  • Cyanide fishing is unsustainable but practiced in Sth nations due to high prices paid for certain fish.
  • The poison destroys the long term viability of the ecosystem, but provides money to the poor, up to 40% income in some African nations where children are too young to officially work so sent into sea à causes physical damage sometimes to children (contravenes UN Declaration on Rights of the Child).
  • Lucrative tourist businesses have exploited this poverty to make profits and destroyed coral belts (eg) 80% Jamaica gone due to cyanide fishing.
  • Poverty must be alleviated to fix issue.

Management Strategies


Defined under the Stockholm Treaty (1972) and the Rio Declaration (1992) as having four major components:

-biological diversity

-employance of the precautionary approach (principle 21)

-intergenerational equity

-intragenerational equity

Also, (in line with Tim Flannery) UN has stated that all strategies, to truly promote sustainability, must:

–          be eco-friendly

–          -allieviate poverty

–          be small-scale and take into account knowledge and iwhses of locals

–          promote community ties and strong, effective government

Scale: International and national protection is needed, but often regional and small-sclae work is better specialized and takes the needs of locals into more account. Thus a range of strategies from global to local need to be evaluated.

Climate Change

***ONE (international, has driven national changel)

  • Kyoto Protocol 1997 – aimed at reducing carbon emissions through specific targets.
  • Russia signed in 2000 making 55% needed to make binding
  • 80% emissions from 20% Nth countries.
  • Sovereignty of int. law issue: US (biggest emitter) and Australia (despite 8% increase allowed!) still refuse to ratify à Bush 2000: “The American way of life is not on the negotiating table.” à Howard reported 2004 we haven’t ratified it but we are meeting targets through carbon sequestration.
  • Also difficult to get future huge emitters such as India and China to sign as they need the right to develop their standard of living.

Agricultural runoff


  • In general reduction of chemical use would be most effective (eg) international documents such as Montreal

***THREE (regional,local, national)

  • In more specified terms – regeneration of mangroves)which act as natural filters
  • Leave a strip of natural rainforest next to the sea as mangroves will naturally filter the nutrients.
  • Establish also a Marine Park Authority (MPA) – for enforcement – UNESCO’s aim is that 5% of coral reefs become MPA protected by 2010, currently only 2%
  • (eg) GBR, recreational wetlands have been reinstalled and Marine Park Authority been established (following the success of Florida Keys) 8 zones made including no fishing zones and indigenous use land and national park area. Has decreased runoff by estimated 12% since 2001.
  • Marine Park authorities also help to contribute towards management of overfishing and poverty by making integrated systems.



(eg) Nth:

  • The 1970’s à strong ‘hippy’ movement à volunteers handpicked off the C.O.T. à not very effective due to low worker numbers and high breeding rate.
  • Also, too slow and underfunded à run by NGO’s which do not have much $$ support.
  • Did not have long term management or enforcement goals or tools.

***FIVE (international, has driven national change)

  • International treaty: Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES) – 240 countries have signed and it protects 30,000 species by creating regulations and guidelines.
  • However though good guideline poor corrupt governments often lack enforcement measures.
  • Often blatantly ignored due to sovereignty anyway (Eg) USA = 90% importer of coral goods for sale in areas such as jewelry and aquariums.

***SIX (regional, local)

(eg) South:

  • South nations have attempted to use ‘people power’ to create relevant small-scale strategies.
  • For example, Philiipenes and ‘no fishing areas’ – established in half the reef in sinkholes which were prominent breeding grounds.
  • Involved local community by ensuring their sustained viability by giving them half the reef.
  • Has seen marked increase in species and numbers in biodiversity.


***SEVEN (International effort towards local solution)

  • Poverty alleviation is the key factor here à corrupt governments must be addressed and aid programs by NGO’s and others need to be small-scale and locally focused for specific targets of each community.
  • (eg) Red Sea Funding – UNESCO and foreign govt’s and international tourist agencies contributed 50% funding to established a Marine National Park to increase protection, enforcement, biodiversity etc.

***EIGHT (national co-operation for regional solution)

  • James Cook University in collaboration with Fiji has implemented a clam breeding program.
  • The ‘under water gardens’ are cultivated not only for local needs such as food but also for international markets.
  • This creates money and viability whilst protecting the reef- the clams natural part of reefs.
  • 8 x more productive than cattle ranching, island’s previous income supply.

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