Working to build climate change resilience for the Belize Barrier Reef

Photograph of the Belize Barrier Reef from the International Space Station. Image: Jeff Williams (NASA).

Marine and climate scientists from Columbia University’s Earth Institute and the World Wildlife Fund are working to protect the Belize Barrier Reef, and the entire Meso American Barrier Reef System, from the effects of climate change:

Warm-water coral reefs—composed of stony corals, algae, and other organisms—are classified as a “unique and threatened” ecosystem that is especially vulnerable to temperature change, according to a recent special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Coral reefs are already experiencing damage [from climate change], and they’re projected to experience significantly more damage, even at temperature rises of 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius” above pre-industrial levels, according to Cynthia Rosenzweig, senior research scientist at the NASA/Goddard Institute for Space Studies and at the Earth Institute’s Center for Climate Systems Research (CCSR).

Rosenzweig’s team is partnering with WWF and the national governments of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, the four countries that border the reef. The aim is to strengthen the resilience of the coastal and marine systems of the Mesoamerican Reef. As part of the ADVANCE partnership, the project will enhance climate expertise in the region, and assist in research, monitoring, and designing adaptation strategies. The hope is that the corals of the Mesoamerican reef and its coastal communities will be able to withstand warmer sea surface temperatures, ocean acidification, sea level rise and coastal flooding in the decades to come.

The scientists intend to devise a mix of “green” and “gray” adaptation measures. For one, they plan to inform land developers of coastal areas about how they can use a combination of vegetation, natural barriers, and hard infrastructure to simultaneously guard their properties from sea level rise and climate events, and to promote ecotourism. “They may decide to conserve 25 to 50 percent of the mangroves on their properties and build a bridge or boardwalk, so [tourists] can come in and view the nature and wildlife within the mangroves,” suggested Bood. “They could also use large rocks to help stabilize and beautify their coastlines.” For coastal areas that are quickly eroding and that do not have suitable habitats for vegetation, hard infrastructure such as sea walls may be the only remedy.

The partners will host at least three workshops with local residents, community organizations, businesses, and government agencies to learn more about how these groups are experiencing the impacts of climate change, and what they see as the main threats in the future. Then the project teams will work with these local stakeholders to design and implement adaptation strategies.

For more read the full post at the Earth Institute’s website: Scientists Work to Build Climate Change Resilience in Caribbean Coral Reef.

[Image: Jeff Williams (NASA)]

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