11th International Coral Reef Symposium: Call to Action

A Call to Action

2008 is a critical time for coral reefs. At the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium held in July, midway in the International Year of the Reef, over 3000 experts from 75 countries assembled to face some hard truths: coral reefs are teetering on the edge of survival and it is our fault. High levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have produced a lethal combination of hotter and less alkaline seawater. Pervasive overfishing, pollution, coastal development, and physical damage further undermine reef health, and consequently, that of the people and ecosystems depending upon them. A brief overview of the 2632 papers presented can be found on www.nova.edu/ncri/11icrs/outcomes.html

Coral reefs feed, protect, and provide livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people around the world. They create homes for billions of fish and other animals, buffer coastlines from the ravages of storms, and provide rich economic opportunities through tourism and fishing. Their value to society has been estimated at more than $300 billion/yr. Reefs are the dynamic centers of the most concentrated biodiversity on Earth. Losing coral reefs would rob the world of one of nature's most precious gifts.

Despite these challenges, it is not too late to save coral reefs. The 11th ICRS gave a renewed sense of purpose and hope for the future. A consensus emerged that society has both the knowledge and the tools to bring coral reefs back from the brink. The only question is - will we act?

We have a real - but rapidly narrowing - window of opportunity in which to take decisive action. We must immediately


  • Cut CO2 emissions by lowering our carbon footprint and ask our policymakers to commit to low carbon economic growth.
  • Eliminate open access fisheries in coral reef ecosystems. Establish and enforce regulations on user rights, total allowable catch, individual catch quotas, non-destructive gear and other sustainable fisheries regulations.
  • Protect coral reef herbivores, including parrotfish. Ban the harvesting of these species for sale and commercial consumption.
  • Establish and strictly enforce networks of Marine Protected Areas that include No-Take Areas. Consult with local communities and authorities on design and benefit sharing to maximize returns and build sustainability into the process in order to protect marine biodiversity and restore vital fish stocks.
  • Effectively manage the waters in between Marine Protected Areas. The enforcement of coastal zoning, environmental impact assessments and "polluter pays" regulations can help control marine and land-based sources of pollution, while strategic environmental assessment can effectively manage coastal development and tourism.
  • Maintain connectivity between coral reefs and associated habitats. Mangroves, sea grass beds and lagoons contribute to the integrity of reef ecosystems and their continued production of ecosystem services.
  • Report regularly and publicly on the health of local coral reefs. Include assessments of the effectiveness of management and conservation measures.
  • Recognize the links between what we do on land and how it affects the ocean. We live on a blue planet - our health depends on ocean health.
  • Bring local actors together to develop a shared vision of healthy reefs and a road map for getting there. Engage members of industry, civil society, local government and the scientific community to set ambitious targets and performance indicators.
  • Work for change with management to produce desired outcomes.

Only by taking bold and urgent steps now can we hope to ensure that reefs will survive to enrich life on earth, as they have for millions of years before us. By failing to act we risk bequeathing an impoverished ocean to our children and future generations. We urge you to sign on below to this commitment to action.


  • For the Outcomes Overview of the 11th ICRS, please visit: www.nova.edu/ncri/11icrs/outcomes.html
  • For more information about the International Year of the Reef, visit: www.iyor.org
  • For more information about the International Society of Reef Studies, visit: www.fit.edu/isrshttp://www.fit.edu/isrs
  •  Following the recent 11th International Coral Reef Symposium, the largest scientific conference to provide the latest knowledge about coral reefs worldwide, an International Call to Action for Coral Reefs has been issued.

    The purpose of the call is to encourage bold and urgent steps to ensure that reefs will survive.  In this way you can lend your support and show your engagement for coral reef conservation. We are hoping for hundreds of thousands of signatures to galvanize local, regional, national, and global action.

    The call has already been signed by the 11th ICRS Local Organizing Committee, Super Chairs of the Mini-Symposia, the President and Council of the International Society for Reef Studies, the Regional Director of the Southeastern National Marine Sanctuary Program, the coordinator the International Year of the Reef, and many others.
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