How do we save coral reefs? By stopping deforestation on land.
What happens to the land, happens to the sea. This has already been demonstrated in many ways, such as the massive dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico from the fertilizer run off from agriculture. It has also been demonstrated by the amount of sediment the clogs the mouths of rivers as soil from cleared land upstream rushes into the water during rains. Researchers show that the way we treat the land, and the consequent effect on the oceans, is a big reason for the decline of coral reefs. In fact, the effect is more pressing for coral reefs right now than warming global temperatures.
The study, published in Nature Communications, looked at different deforestation scenarios and the effects of future climate change on Madagascar's coral reefs. With different climate zones that resemble most coral reef climates globally, as well as a diversity of land uses, the site worked well as a model for the planet.
"The findings are very relevant for Australia since intense land use and past deforestation have transformed the river catchments tremendously and are seen as a major threat to coral reefs in the Great Barrier Reef and elsewhere," said Dr Jens Zinke, of UWA's Oceans Institute, in a news release from the University of Western Australia. "Managing hinterland land use is the major action needed to buy time for corals growing near rivers."
The researchers state: "Curbing sediment pollution to coral reefs is one of the major recommendations to buy time for corals to survive ocean warming and bleaching events in the future. Our results clearly show that land use management is the most important policy action needed to prevent further damage and preserve the reef ecosystem."
The researchers found that mitigating erosion on land is more important to saving coral reefs right now than even addressing climate change. Without addressing the current issues, we won't have living coral reefs to try and save from warmer ocean temperatures. Of course, the real question is how to achieve sustainable and safe land use management. Without goals and immediate action, simply knowing the connection won't be enough to buy time for coral reefs.