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Coral reef projects receive a major boost in funding

The forests of the ocean are suffering. Warming waters are causing ocean acidification and coral bleaching. Meanwhile, overfishing practices are causing the subsequent collapse of entire ecosystems. Bolstered funding from COP27 is aiming to slow – and hopefully reverse – the process.

When we think about nature’s ecosystems, coral reefs are often the last to come to mind. With almost 60 percent of the world’s population living in metropolitan cities, the importance of ocean health is often forgotten by the majority.

But those who live near coastlines know that these precious environments are vital to preserving ocean health. They may only make up 1 percent of the undersea world, but it’s a fact that all marine life depends on them.

Conservationists have been campaigning for coral reefs as they’ve become increasingly endangered over the last decade. Warmer temperatures, heightened ocean acidity, and overfishing practices are among several threats they face.

The good news is there have been significant developments relating to coral reef preservation at COP27. In particular, for Egypt’s Red Sea corals, which we’ve recently learned are unique in their ability to withstand warmer sea temperatures.

Scientists believe the heat-resistant species of corals off Egypt’s shorelines could be crucial to salvaging dying reefs in warming waters elsewhere. These specialised reefs are home to over 1,000 different species of fish and at least 350 different coral species.

At this year’s climate summit the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) promised up to $15 million USD in funding to boost coral reef-positive blue economic growth.

A key portion of the funds will be put towards conservation finance in the Egyptian Red Sea, in partnership with the Global Fund for Coral Reefs (GFCR) which was recently recognised by UNESCO as an official organisation.

Thanks to this amount, the total of money available to the GFCR has reached $187 million. With this funding, restoration and preservation tactics can be amplified.

Oceans gems like the Great Barrier Reef experience rapid decline each summer, with corals dying off in mass coral bleaching events. Dead corals can no longer provide a safe haven for small fish and crustaceans – ultimately affecting the entire ocean food chain.

With funding to prevent the Red Sea’s corals from meeting the same fate, conservationists should be able to transport these heat-resistant species from Egypt’s coats to other parts of the ocean.

Transporting heat-resistant corals to help dying reefs survive will be an absolute game-changer.

Looking at the lack of commitments to phasing out the use of planet-heating fossil fuels, it looks like we won’t prevent temperature increases of 2 degrees C. At this point, marine biologists say 90 percent of coral reefs will be non-existent.

Still, there’s reason to hope.

Lab-nurtured heat-resistant corals are already being trialled in waters off of Costa Rica and Florida, with promising results emerging. In Indonesia, hydrophones and artificial intelligence are being used to monitor the health of local reefs by listening to the sounds caused by life living among them.

Not to mention, there are tons of organisations dedicated to coral gardening. This involves ‘planting’ new reefs in areas where others have died. A major part of this is using innovation to find out what structures and materials work best to help them grow.

So although we might not think of reefs in day to day life, there are teams of amazing people working to help them thrive. The ripple effect of healthy coral reefs means these projects are upholding all life in the ocean.

With added funding off the back of this year’s COP, let’s hope the positive news keeps on coming!