Carbon emissions in an industrialized world have created two problems for coral reefs: climate change and ocean acidification. Climate change drives ocean warming, which impacts biological and ecological reef processes, triggers large-scale coral bleaching events, and fuels tropical storms. Ocean acidification slows reef growth, alters competitive interactions, and impairs population replenishment. For managers and policymakers, ocean warming and acidification represent an almost paradoxical challenge by eroding reef resilience and simultaneously increasing the demand for reef resilience. Here, I address this problem in the context of challenges and potential solutions. Management efforts can compensate for reduced coral reef resilience in the face of global change, but to a limited extent and over a limited time frame. Critically, a realistic perspective on what sustainability measures can be achieved for coral reefs in the face of ocean warming and acidification is important to avoid setting unachievable goals for regional and local-scale management programs.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Literature Cited

  1. Walther G-R, Post E, Convey P, Menzel A, Parmesan C. 1.  et al. 2002. Ecological responses to recent climate change. Nature 416:6879389–95 [Google Scholar]
  2. Kleypas JA, McManus JW, Menez LAB. 2.  1999. Environmental limits to coral reef development: Where do we draw the line?. Am. Zool. 39:146–59 [Google Scholar]
  3. Hoegh-Guldberg O, Mumby PJ, Hooten AJ, Gomez E, Sale PF. 3.  et al. 2007. Coral reefs under rapid climate change and ocean acidification. Science 318:1737–42 [Google Scholar]
  4. Burke L, Reytar K, Spalding M, Perry A. 4.  2012. Reefs at Risk Revisited in the Coral Triangle Washington, DC: World Resour. Inst.
  5. de Groot R, Brander L, van der Ploeg S, Costanza R, Bernard F. 5.  et al. 2012. Global estimates of the value of ecosystems and their services in monetary units. Ecosyst. Serv. 1:150–61 [Google Scholar]
  6. Anthony KRN, Marshall PM, Abdullah A, Beeden R, Bergh C. 6.  et al. 2015. Operationalizing resilience for the adaptive management of coral reefs under global environmental change. Glob. Chang. Biol. 21:48–61 [Google Scholar]
  7. Hughes TP, Baird AH, Bellwood DR, Card M, Connolly SR. 7.  et al. 2003. Climate change, human impacts, and the resilience of coral reefs. Science 301:5635929–33 [Google Scholar]
  8. Bellwood DR, Hughes TP, Folke C, Nystrom M. 8.  2004. Confronting the coral reef crisis. Nature 429:827–33 [Google Scholar]
  9. Knowlton N.9.  2001. The future of coral reefs. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 98:105419–25 [Google Scholar]
  10. Kleypas JA, Buddemeier B, Gattuso JP. 10.  2001. The future of coral reefs in an age of climate change. Int. J. Earth Sci. 90:426–37 [Google Scholar]
  11. Pandolfi JM, Connolly SR, Marshall DJ, Cohen AL. 11.  2011. Projecting coral reef futures under global warming and ocean acidification. Science 333:6041418–22 [Google Scholar]
  12. Cinner JE, Huchery C, Darling ES, Humphries AT, Graham NAJ. 12.  et al. 2013. Evaluating social and ecological vulnerability of coral reef fisheries to climate change. PLOS ONE 8:9e74321 [Google Scholar]
  13. Rau GH, McLeod EL, Hoegh-Guldberg O. 13.  2012. The need for new ocean conservation strategies in a high-carbon dioxide world. Nat. Clim. Chang. 2:720–24 [Google Scholar]
  14. Ortiz JC, Bozec Y-M, Wolff NH, Doropoulos C, Mumby PJ. 14.  2014. Global disparity in the ecological benefits of reducing carbon emissions for coral reefs. Nat. Clim. Chang. 4:121090–94 [Google Scholar]
  15. Fabricius KE, Langdon C, Uthicke S, Humphrey C, Noonan S. 15.  et al. 2011. Losers and winners in coral reefs acclimatized to elevated carbon dioxide concentrations. Nat. Clim. Chang. 1:3165–69 [Google Scholar]
  16. Root TL, Price JT, Hall KR, Schneider SH, Rosenzweig C, Pounds A. 16.  2003. Fingerprints of global warming on wild animals and plants. Nature 421:57–60 [Google Scholar]
  17. 17. Intergov. Panel Climate Change (IPCC). 2014. Summary for policymakers. In Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report IPCC 3118 Geneva, Switz.: IPCC [Google Scholar]
  18. Lyman JM, Good SA, Gouretski VV, Ishii M, Johnson GC. 18.  et al. 2010. Robust warming of the global upper ocean. Nature 465:7296334–37 [Google Scholar]
  19. Gleckler PJ, Santer BD, Domingues CM, Pierce DW, Barnett TP. 19.  et al. 2012. Human-induced global ocean warming on multidecadal timescales. Nat. Clim. Chang. 2:7524–29 [Google Scholar]
  20. Feely RA, Sabine CL, Lee K, Berelson W, Kleypas J. 20.  et al. 2004. Impact of anthropogenic CO2 on the CaCO3 system in the oceans. Science 305:5682362–66 [Google Scholar]
  21. Orr JC, Fabry VJ, Aumont O, Bopp L, Doney SC. 21.  et al. 2005. Anthropogenic ocean acidification over the twenty-first century and its impact on calcifying organisms. Nature 437:7059681–86 [Google Scholar]
  22. Stevenson SL.22.  2012. Significant changes to ENSO strength and impacts in the twenty-first century: results from CMIP5. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39:17L17703 [Google Scholar]
  23. Kleypas JA, Langdon C. 23.  2006. Coral reefs and changing seawater chemistry. Coastal and Estuarine Studies, Vol. 61: Coral Reefs and Climate Change: Science and Management JT Phinney, O Hoegh-Guldberg, J Kleypas, W Skirving, A Strong 73–110 Washington, DC: Am. Geophys. Union [Google Scholar]
  24. Orr J.24.  2011. Recent and future changes in carbonate chemistry. Ocean Acidification J-P Gattuso, L Hansson Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  25. Cao L, Caldeira K, Jain AK. 25.  2007. Effects of carbon dioxide and climate change on ocean acidification and carbonate mineral saturation. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34:5L05607 [Google Scholar]
  26. Caldeira K, Wickett ME. 26.  2003. Oceanography: anthropogenic carbon and ocean pH. Nature 425:365 [Google Scholar]
  27. Kroeker K, Kordas RL, Crim RN, Singh GG. 27.  2010. Meta-analysis reveals negative yet variable effects of ocean acidification on marine organisms. Ecol. Lett. 13:1419–34 [Google Scholar]
  28. Fabricius KE, De'ath G, Noonan S, Uthicke S. 28.  2014. Ecological effects of ocean acidification and habitat complexity on reef-associated macroinvertebrate communities. Proc. R. Soc. B 281:20132479 [Google Scholar]
  29. Strahl J, Stolz I, Uthicke S, Vogel N, Noonan SHC, Fabricius KE. 29.  2015. Physiological and ecological performance differs in four coral taxa at a volcanic carbon dioxide seep. Comp. Biochem. Physiol. A 184:179–86 [Google Scholar]
  30. Munday PL, Cheal AJ, Dixson DL, Rummer JL, Fabricius KE. 30.  2014. Behavioural impairment in reef fishes caused by ocean acidification at CO2 seeps. Nat. Clim. Chang. 4:87–92 [Google Scholar]
  31. Anthony KRN, Kline DI, Diaz-Pulido G, Dove S, Hoegh-Guldberg O. 31.  2008. Ocean acidification causes bleaching and productivity loss in coral reef builders. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 105:17442–46 [Google Scholar]
  32. Anthony KRN, Maynard JA, Diaz-Pulido G, Mumby PJ, Cao L. 32.  et al. 2011. Ocean acidification and warming will lower coral reef resilience. Glob. Chang. Biol. 17:1798–808 [Google Scholar]
  33. Jackson JBC, Kirby MX, Berger WH, Bjorndal KA, Botsford LW. 33.  et al. 2001. Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems. Science 293:629–38 [Google Scholar]
  34. Edinger EN, Jompa J, Limmon GV, Widjatmoko W, Risk MJ. 34.  1998. Reef degradation and coral biodiversity in Indonesia: effects of land-based pollution, destructive fishing practices and changes over time. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 36:8617–30 [Google Scholar]
  35. D'Angelo C, Wiedenmann J. 35.  2014. Impacts of nutrient enrichment on coral reefs: new perspectives and implications for coastal management and reef survival. Curr. Opin. Environ. Sustain. 7:282–93 [Google Scholar]
  36. Schaffelke B, Carleton J, Skuza M, Zagorskis I, Furnas MJ. 36.  2012. Water quality in the inshore Great Barrier Reef lagoon: implications for long-term monitoring and management. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 65:4–9249–60 [Google Scholar]
  37. Pandolfi JM, Jackson JBC, Baron N, Bradbury RH, Guzman HM. 37.  et al. 2005. Are U.S. coral reefs on the slippery slope to slime?. Science 307:1725–26 [Google Scholar]
  38. Matthews HD, Gillett NP, Stott PA, Zickfeld K. 38.  2009. The proportionality of global warming to cumulative carbon emissions. Nature 459:829–33 [Google Scholar]
  39. Good P, Lowe JA, Andrews T, Wiltshire A, Chadwick R. 39.  et al. 2015. Nonlinear regional warming with increasing CO2 concentrations. Nat. Clim. Chang. 5:Jan.138–42 [Google Scholar]
  40. Levitus S, Antonov JI, Boyer TP, Baranova OK, Garcia HE. 40.  et al. 2012. World ocean heat content and thermosteric sea level change (0–2000m), 1955–2010. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39:101–5 [Google Scholar]
  41. Lough JM.41.  2012. Small change, big difference: sea surface temperature distributions for tropical coral reef ecosystems, 1950–2011. J. Geophys. Res. 117:C9C09018 [Google Scholar]
  42. Moss RH, Edmonds JA, Hibbard KA, Manning MR, Rose SK. 42.  et al. 2010. The next generation of scenarios for climate change research and assessment. Nature 463:7282747–56 [Google Scholar]
  43. Cao L, Caldeira K. 43.  2008. Atmospheric CO2 stabilization and ocean acidification. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35:L19609 [Google Scholar]
  44. Kleypas JA, Buddemeier RW, Archer D, Gattuso JP, Langdon C, Opdyke BN. 44.  1999. Geochemical consequences of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide on coral reefs. Science 284:April118–20 [Google Scholar]
  45. Silverman J, Lazar B, Cao L, Caldeira K, Erez J. 45.  2009. Coral reefs may start dissolving when atmospheric CO2 doubles. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36:L05606 [Google Scholar]
  46. Meinshausen M, Smith SJ, Calvin K, Daniel JS, Kainuma MLT. 46.  et al. 2011. The RCP greenhouse gas concentrations and their extensions from 1765 to 2300. Clim. Change 109:1213–41 [Google Scholar]
  47. 47. IPCC. 2013. Summary for policymakers. Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis IPCC 1–29 Geneva, Switz.: IPCC [Google Scholar]
  48. Kleypas J, Feely R, Fabry V, Langdon C, Sabine C, Robbins L. 48.  2006. Impacts of ocean acidification on coral reefs and other marine calcifiers : a guide for future research Rep. 2897, Nat. Sci. Found., Nat. Ocean. Atmos. Admin., US Geol. Surv., Pac. Marine Environ. Lab., NOAA Seattle, WA:
  49. Friedlingstein P, Andrew RM, Rogelj J, Peters GP, Canadell JG. 49.  et al. 2014. Persistent growth of CO2 emissions and implications for reaching climate targets. Nat. Geosci. 7:10709–15 [Google Scholar]
  50. van Woesik R, Golbuu Y, Roff G. 50.  2015. Keep up or drown: adjustment of western Pacific coral reefs to sea-level rise in the 21st century. R. Soc. Open Sci. 2:7150181 [Google Scholar]
  51. Field ME, Ogston AS, Storlazzi CD. 51.  2011. Rising sea level may cause decline of fringing coral reefs. EOS 92:33273–74 [Google Scholar]
  52. Spalding MD, Grenfell AM. 52.  1997. New estimates of global and regional coral reef areas. Coral Reefs 16:4225–30 [Google Scholar]
  53. Done TJ.53.  1983. Coral zonation: Its nature and significance. Perspectives on Coral Reefs DJ Barnes 107–47 Canberra: Austr. Inst. Mar. Sci. [Google Scholar]
  54. Muscatine L.54.  1990. The role of symbiotic algae in carbon and energy flux in reef corals. Ecosystems of the World: Coral Reefs 25 Z Dubinsky 75–87 Amsterdam: Elsevier [Google Scholar]
  55. Gattuso JP, Allemand D, Frankignoulle M. 55.  1999. Photosynthesis and calcification at cellular, organismal and community levels in coral reefs: a review on interactions and control by carbonate chemistry. Am. Zool. 39:160–83 [Google Scholar]
  56. Anthony KRN, Connolly SR, Willis BL. 56.  2002. Comparative analysis of energy allocation to tissue and skeletal growth in corals. Limnol. Ocean 47:51417–29 [Google Scholar]
  57. Rinkevich B.57.  1989. The contribution of photosynthetic products to coral reproduction. Mar. Biol. 101:259–63 [Google Scholar]
  58. Berkelmans R, van Oppen MJH. 58.  2006. The role of zooxanthellae in the thermal tolerance of corals: a “nugget of hope” for coral reefs in an era of climate change. Proc. R. Soc. B 273:15992305–12 [Google Scholar]
  59. Jokiel PL, Coles SL. 59.  1990. Response of Hawaiian and other Indo-Pacific reef corals to elevated temperature. Coral Reefs 8:155–62 [Google Scholar]
  60. De'ath G, Lough JM, Fabricius KE. 60.  2009. Declining coral calcification on the Great Barrier Reef. Science 323:116–19 [Google Scholar]
  61. Eakin CM, Lough JM, Heron SF. 61.  2009. Climate, weather and coral bleaching. See Ref. 159 41–67
  62. Hoegh-Guldberg O.62.  1999. Climate change, coral bleaching and the future of the world's coral reefs. Mar. Freshw. Res. 50:8839–66 [Google Scholar]
  63. Lesser MP.63.  1997. Oxidative stress causes coral bleaching during exposure to elevated temperatures. Coral Reefs 16:3187–92 [Google Scholar]
  64. Smith DJ, Suggett DJ, Baker NR. 64.  2005. Is photoinhibition of zooxanthellae photosynthesis the primary cause of thermal bleaching in corals?. Glob. Chang. Biol. 11:1–11 [Google Scholar]
  65. Anthony KRN, Hoogenboom MO, Maynard JAM, Grottoli AG, Middlebrook R. 65.  2009. An energetics approach to predicting mortality risk from environmental stress: A case study of coral bleaching. Funct. Ecol. 23:539–50 [Google Scholar]
  66. McClanahan TR, Weil E, Cortés J, Baird AH, Ateweberhan M. 66.  2009. Consequences of coral bleaching for sessile reef organisms. See Ref. 159 121–38
  67. Jones GP, McCormick MI, Srinivasan M, Eagle J V. 67.  2004. Coral decline threatens fish biodiversity in marine reserves. PNAS 101:8251–53 [Google Scholar]
  68. Glynn PW.68.  1984. Widespread coral mortality and the 1982–83 El Niño warming event. Environ. Conserv. 11:02133–46 [Google Scholar]
  69. Oliver JK, Berkelmans R, Eakin CM. 69.  2009. Coral bleaching in space and time. See Ref. 159 21–39
  70. Spencer T, Teleki KA, Bradshaw C, Spalding MD. 70.  2000. Coral bleaching in the southern Seychelles during the 1997–1998 Indian Ocean warm event. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 40:7569–86 [Google Scholar]
  71. Aronson RB, Precht WF, Toscano MA, Koltes KH. 71.  2002. The 1998 bleaching event and its aftermath on a coral reef in Belize. Mar. Biol. 141:435–48 [Google Scholar]
  72. Berkelmans R, Oliver JK. 72.  1999. Large-scale bleaching of corals on the Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 18:55–66 [Google Scholar]
  73. Wilkinson C.73.  2002. Coral bleaching and mortality—the 1998 event 4 years later and bleaching to 2002. Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2002 C Wilkinson 33–44 Townsville, Aust.: Glob. Coral Reef Monit. Netw., Aust. Inst. Mar. Sci. [Google Scholar]
  74. McClanahan IR.74.  2000. Bleaching damage and recovery potential of Maldivian coral reefs. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 40:7587–97 [Google Scholar]
  75. Berkelmans R, De'ath G, Kininmonth S, Skirving WJ. 75.  2004. A comparison of the 1998 and 2002 coral bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef: spatial correlation, patterns, and predictions. Coral Reefs 23:174–83 [Google Scholar]
  76. Eakin CM, Morgan JA, Heron SF, Smith TB, Liu G. 76.  et al. 2010. Caribbean corals in crisis: record thermal stress, bleaching, and mortality in 2005. PLOS ONE 5:11e13969 [Google Scholar]
  77. Guest JR, Baird AH, Maynard JA, Muttaqin E, Edwards AJ. 77.  et al. 2012. Contrasting patterns of coral bleaching susceptibility in 2010 suggest an adaptive response to thermal stress. PLOS ONE 7:31–8 [Google Scholar]
  78. Moore JAY, Bellchambers LM, Depczynski MR, Evans RD, Evans SN. 78.  et al. 2012. Unprecedented mass bleaching and loss of coral across 12° of latitude in western Australia in 2010–11. PLOS ONE 7:12e51807 [Google Scholar]
  79. Normile D.79.  2016. El Niño's warmth devastating reefs worldwide. Science 352:628115–16 [Google Scholar]
  80. van Hooidonk R, Maynard JA, Planes S. 80.  2013. Temporary refugia for coral reefs in a warming world. Nat. Clim. Chang. 3:5508–11 [Google Scholar]
  81. Marshall PA, Baird AH. 81.  2000. Bleaching of corals on the Great Barrier Reef: differential susceptibilities among taxa. Coral Reefs 19:2155–63 [Google Scholar]
  82. Pratchett MS, McCowan D, Maynard JA, Heron SF. 82.  2013. Changes in bleaching susceptibility among corals subject to ocean warming and recurrent bleaching in Moorea, French Polynesia. PLOS ONE 8:71–10 [Google Scholar]
  83. Maynard JA, Anthony KRN, Marshall P, Masiri I. 83.  2008. Major bleaching events lead to increased thermal tolerance in corals. Mar. Biol. 155:173–82 [Google Scholar]

Data & Media loading...

  • Article Type: Review Article
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error