Credit: University of Hawai‘i Caption: Annick Cros, a University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa doctoral candidate in zoology at work.

Connecting Coral Reefs Worldwide

Annick Cros answered our questions about the Connecting Coral Reefs Worldwide project

Thanks to support from the Disney Conservation Fund, Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology at UH Mānoa associate researcher Dr. Stephen Karl and doctoral student Annick Cros are meeting with success in their efforts to protect coral reefs.
“Coral reefs worldwide are threatened by human activities, bleaching associated with elevated ocean temperatures and ocean acidification. Support from the Disney Conservation Fund for Connecting Coral Reefs Worldwide enabled UH Mānoa’s Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology to address this critical conservation issue by studying how reefs in Palau recover from catastrophic disturbances in order to help restore and preserve the reefs and their incredible biodiversity for future generations.

Most importantly, the grant made it possible to train researchers, teachers, and students from several island nations in Micronesia in new population genetics techniques that will improve the design of resilient Marine Protected Area (MPA) networks so that they are more effective in protecting coral reefs in Palau, throughout Micronesia, and globally.”

Brian Taylor, Vice Chancellor for Research, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and Dean, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology

How has this project helped marine wildlife?

While coral reefs cover only one-tenth of 1 percent of the ocean’s floor, they have the planet’s most diverse variety of species with more than 25 percent of the world’s fish living there. However, these coral reefs have been badly degraded by human impacts and climate change over recent years and are now at a critical stage.

As part of Connecting Coral Reefs Worldwide we have successfully carried out research using new techniques in population genetics to better understand coral reefs and their recovery from damage. This has led to the development of a tool to design resilient Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to improve the reef’s chances of survival and to maintain healthy coral communities and fish habitat.

The principle behind these networks is based on connectivity: reef areas that are less likely to be damaged by climate change or other disturbances can act as a source of larvae for areas that are more vulnerable. The biggest challenge is tracking or tagging larvae, which are small and can swim, making it difficult to obtain information on connectivity. Genetic data can identify areas that export larvae or areas that are dependent on these larvae to survive. Such recommendations will allow managers to optimize the size and placement of MPAs in a network.

The findings of this research will immediately and significantly contribute to the government of Palau’s efforts to protect their reefs and then be disseminated to other areas which are facing similar challenges.

How has this project helped the community?

Supporting young people

Through the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology, “Connecting Coral Reefs Worldwide” has offered internships to students from Micronesia to work in a population genetic laboratory. They gained hands-on experience in the techniques developed to track connectivity. This training gives them the confidence and skills to continue in the fields of science and management.

Supporting Pacific Island communities

In partnership with the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) and the Pacific Resources for Education and Learning (PREL),“Connecting Coral Reefs Worldwide” ran a workshop in 2014 on climate science for high school teachers in Hawai‘i. It provided teachers a solid foundation on climate science and classroom activities for their students.

The workshop underlined the need for critical thinking to better understand the issues of climate change and to be able to take action in the Hawaiian community.

A second climate science workshop for high school teachers was held in June 2015 in Majuro in the Marshall Islands. The Marshall Islands are a group of 29 atolls and five isolated islands in the North Pacific, covering approximately the area of Washington D.C. with the highest elevation of 33 feet above sea level. These islands are vulnerable to climate change due to their isolation and low elevation.

We are collaborating with the College of the Marshall Island, the Ministry of Education of the Marshall Islands and local community groups, to provide the teachers with as many local resources as possible. The workshop provided teachers with the knowledge to build resilience within their community and prepare their students for the changes that will inevitably happen.

For Our University, Our Hawai‘i, Our Future