August 30, 2016

ICRS 13 — Progress in the Midst of Tragedy

By Dr. Gregor Hodgson, Reef Check Executive Director


Reef Check helped to organize several important activities at the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Honolulu in June. The meeting was huge, with over 90 different session topics, 5000 authors and 2500 individual presentations. Apparently the secret is out that coral reefs are rewarding to study. It was opened with a heartfelt speech by President Tommy Esang Remengesau, Jr. of the Republic of Palau who recognized early on the importance of conserving Palau's coral reefs and took action to do so.

Given that this was the 10th ICRS I have attended, it was fascinating to see the continuing evolution of coral reef science at a time when the 3rd Global Bleaching Event had just killed off a big chunk of the Great Barrier Reef among many others around the world. Positive developments have included:

1. In the 1980s, many academics felt that ICRS should only focus on science and not “lowly” reef management. This has happily evolved such that almost half the Sessions were focused on coral reef management.
2. A paper I wrote in the early 90s on communicating science to the media/public was considered an oddity, but now scientists recognize that poor communication has blocked public support of science and conservation and whole sessions were devoted to communicating science.
3. Genetics used to be isolated and now has been well integrated into ecology.
4. Citizen science such as practiced by Reef Check is now recognized as an essential tool for both science and public interaction so merits its own session.
5. Many important coral reef nations are often poorly represented at reef meetings, so it was impressive to see a contingent of about 50 Filipino scientists – the legacy of Prof. Edgardo Gomez, who set up the Marine Sciences Institute at the University of the Philippines.

Reef Check helped the International Society for Reef Studies (Sue Wells and Rupert Ormond) to organize a Town Meeting focused on the 3rd Global Coral Reef Bleaching, and I co-chaired Bleaching sessions with Cindy Hunter that covered 2 days. Partners Mark Eakin of NOAA Coral Reef Watch, Richard Vevers of The Ocean Agency, Ove-Hoegh Guldberg of Queensland University and others provided sobering reports on the damage the bleaching has done. In my presentation I made the point that coral adaptation to higher temperatures is occurring and reefs are doing better than many of us thought back in 1998 after the first global bleaching. My conclusion is that we still have time to fix this problem before it is too late.

As always, it was great to meet so many Reef Check scientists and old friends from around the world and to enjoy our RC Happy Hour together at the jazz club.