THE danger for coral reefs from climate change is enormous and represents a huge challenge for their management and preservation.
Yet, local stressors also facing coral reefs are as huge and immediate.
So this double setback represents a critical challenge for the state of coral reefs around the world, says University of Queensland director of marine science John Pandolfi.
In a media briefing at the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium in Cairns, Australia yesterday, Mr Pandolfi said however, there was still good news.
"Management for local threats such as overfishing and pollution are achievable and exactly align with those for climate change - reducing local threats on coral reef puts them in as good as stead as possible for ongoing climate change," he said.
Mr Pandolfi also added policy changes were needed immediately.
"I see three critical policy implications. Slow climate change because the rate at which the environment changes strongly affects whether and in what form coral reefs will persist, actions that slow the rate of climate change will diminish its impacts and maximise the potential for coral reefs to recover and even adapt," Mr Pandolfi said.
"So at the level of policy, the first thing we must do is to act to slow the rate of climate change, which means aggressive carbon dioxide emissions reductions," he said.
Local stressors, he added, must also be reduced.
Mr Pandolfi said larger, well-connected populations generally had greater capacity to evolve than smaller, poorly-connected populations.
As a result, he said human impacts such as fishing, pollution and habitat destruction would also reduce the potential of coral reefs to adapt to warmer and more acidic conditions.
Mr Pandolfi said there was also an immediate need for the expansion of management strategies.
He said the non-climate-related threats already confronting coral reefs were likely to reduce their capacity to cope with climate change.
"Recent evidence suggests that the better condition reefs are in, the better they will be able to handle the adverse effects of climate change, especially as temperatures ramp up and ocean acidification increases over the coming century.
"Thus the best thing we can do is to manage reefs well from their local stressors. This means expansion over broader scales of the best practice of ecosystem-based management, marine spatial planning, controls over exploitation, increases in water quality and the further expansion of marine protected areas," he added.