Coral reefs are in danger of reaching “tipping points” in which a series of small changes become significant enough to cause a larger and more drastic effect. Once this occurs, it is particularly difficult for the ecosystem to recover. The Ocean Tipping Points (OTP) team's work on Hawaiian coral reefs was recently featured in PNAS "Inner Workings". Scientists from NCEAS, University of Hawaii, Bangor University, Cal Poly, NOAA, Stanford University, and the Stockholm Resilience Center have been collaborating to identify coral reef tipping points to help inform strategies to prevent reefs from undergoing undesirable ecosystem shifts.
“The Ocean Tipping Points Hawaii Case study has been one of the most rewarding team science endeavors I've been a part of. We have a fantastic and diverse team who span the globe and all career stages on this truly interdisciplinary effort. We also have the fortune of a truly engaged and enthusiastic audience of managers and other practitioners guiding our science to ensure its utility and uptake for coral reef management in Hawaii.”
– Kim Selkoe, NCEAS Center Associate and Hawaii case study lead
The Hawaii case study is part of the larger Ocean Tipping Points project---a multi-institutional collaboration of natural and social scientists, law and policy experts, and resource managers, primarily funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The Hawaii team is examining a large database of thousands of hours of in-field surveys in coral reefs in Hawaii, and building new maps of human impacts to reefs. Researchers have constructed detailed models of five different types of “reef regimes” based on the type of marine life present and the physical environment. The factors that cause a site to shift from one regime to another are then analyzed to identify what could lead an ecosystem to reach a tipping point. Identification of early warning signs can help managers create more effective conservation targets that can be implemented before irreversible damage occurs.
Coral Reefs at a Tipping Point
S. Ravindran. PNAS, 10 May 2016, Vol. 113, Issue 19, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1605690113
Learn more about the Ocean Tipping Points project.
Learn more about Kim Selkoe's research.