Climate change targets set out in the Paris Agreement are “inadequate” to prevent the devastation of the world’s coral reefs, the head of Little Cayman’s marine research center has warned.

In an article for the United Nations Chronicle, written before president Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the international climate accord, Carrie Manfrino, president of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, argued that the goals set in Paris where not ambitious enough.

She wrote that while the Paris agreement targets, initially adopted by 195 countries, would mitigate the consequences of climate change for humankind, they would not reverse the decline of the ocean’s coral reefs.

“Much more aggressive action and education” is needed to protect the “most threatened ecosystems on Earth,” she wrote in the United Nations quarterly journal.

“The emissions goals set in Paris at COP 21 would lead to temperature increases by 2030 that would be devastating for coral reefs,” she wrote. Ms. Manfrino warns that warming ocean temperatures have already contributed to the destruction of some 20 percent of the world’s coral reefs, with a further 24 percent under imminent risk of collapse.

Speaking to the Cayman Compass this week, Ms. Manfrino said she hoped the U.S. would lead a global movement to protect the world’s oceans, in spite of Mr. Trump’s stance.

“We want the conservation world to increase the goals for coral reef protection. The need is for a massive expansion of protection because coral reefs are critically threatened. The unfortunate decision by the Trump administration to back out of the Paris agreement makes matters worse,” she said.

With more than half of the world’s population living within 100 kilometers of the ocean, Ms. Manfrino wrote in her article, massive loss of coral reef ecosystems could cause widespread economic and social issues.

“The collapse of coral reefs has far-reaching implications for the entire ocean, for people and, indeed, for the planet. Going forward, the focus must be on how to conserve what is left, ideally taking bold, decisive steps to reverse the unthinkable trajectory,” she wrote.

Ms. Manfrino highlights increasing the size of no-fishing zones and improving cooperation to deal with issues that transcend international borders as important factors in helping reverse the decline of coral reefs.

But she warns this must come with education and opportunity for communities who feel their livelihoods are under threat from increased regulation.

“Conservation relies on strong governance that is often overshadowed by private interests. Changing human behavior and the conditions that influence behavior, including poverty and the effects of globalization, would be a necessary first step in many areas.

“Teaching sustainable fishing, and providing opportunities for renewable energy and ecotourism are strategies that have successfully increased the rates of employment and improved sanitation while decreasing poverty, malnutrition and pollution.

“Good governance could effectively reduce overfishing, stop anchor damage and remove direct human impacts so long as the human issues and community perception are included as elements of the plan.”

Ms. Manfrino concludes that strong leadership is needed to help reduce the decline of coral reefs.

“With estimates that coral reefs are among the most threatened ecosystems on Earth, the dire need for societal-level changes to reduce human impacts on coral reef ecosystems is no longer a debate …

“Actions that protect top predators, identify key herbivorous fish species for protection, halt destructive fishing, boating and diving, and manage exploitation of reef fish cannot hurt. Nevertheless, much more aggressive action and education from the top down to grassroots efforts to achieve a carbon-neutral planet are required to protect coral reefs; otherwise, we’re just whistling past Davy Jones’ locker.”

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