February 28, 2018

A Royal Uplifting Speech Kicks Off IYOR in the UK

By Dr. Gregor Hodgson, Reef Check Executive Director

On 14 February, Reef Check attended the UK launch of the International Year of the Reef 2018 (IYOR) by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales through the International Sustainability Unit — founded by HRH The Prince of Wales and set up to improve conservation. Prince Harry also attended the event alongside his father. By giving a rousing speech about the coral reef crisis, the HRH The Prince of Wales gave a significant lift to everyone's hopes that the public and politicians around the world will realize that it is not too late, and it is vitally important to conserve these ecosystems. Kudos go to Kristian Teleki of ISU who organized the gathering along with significant press coverage.

In addition to having royalty involved, what was different about this meeting was that two new approaches were prominently featured. It was not just science as usual. The success of the film Chasing Coral has helped to launch a major PR campaign by the Ocean Agency to save reefs combined with a scientific approach. This has been a huge missing link in the past. The 50 Reefs project is a game-changer for coral reef conservation. It is essential to build the public “demand side” that will lead to public pressure on political leaders in every country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change so that coral reefs can survive. With the help of celebrities like Prince Harry and his ability to pull in other A-list celebrities to build support for coral reefs, this will dramatically increase the attention paid to this last-ditch effort to save the world's coral reefs.

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales speaks with Reef Check Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson

The new project will also allow testing of the tool box of new ideas on resilience-building with the help of a high-powered group of scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society, Queensland University and University of Hawai'i. Restoration could save a few reefs in human lifespan terms, albeit at great cost. From Reef Check's perspective, humans don't live very long compared to corals, but this could help people at least feel like we are doing “something” on the ground, although ultimately restoration is too expensive on the scale of the Great Barrier Reef that was seriously damaged during 2015-16.

In addition there were several “impact investors” attending the meeting looking for high quality projects to support. Impact investors are looking primarily for social and environmental achievements rather than just financial profit. This new mix of impact investors and scientists was a pleasure to see.

What is still missing is a lobby group in each country to directly educate and prod senior politicians on the urgency and rationale to support actions that will prevent further damage to coral reefs. Government environmental departments have little power. Reef Check successfully assisted in the lead up to the 2015 COP21 Climate Change talks by creating an informal lobby group called the Coral Reef Coalition. This helped to push for the 1.5 degree C limit. Perhaps the new PR campaign will help lead to the creation of more much-needed lobby groups for coral reefs in some of the 101 countries with coral reefs.