College of Liberal Arts

Symposium Addresses a Crisis in the Caribbean

Thu, Oct 8, 2015
Photo by Alfredo MontaƱez
Photo by Alfredo MontaƱez

Members of academia and governmental and non-governmental organizations convened at The University of Texas at Austin campus to brainstorm ways to manage, conserve and promote continued learning to address the crisis of Caribbean coral reefs.

The two-day symposium “Caribbean Coral Reefs at Risk” was held September 24–25 and organized by geography and the environment professor Carols Ramos Scharrón as part of the LLILAS Faculty-Led Research Initiative

“Reef ecosystems have declined throughout the Caribbean, and although the causes are complex and not typically well described by regional scale assessments, there is general consensus that humans have been dishonorable protagonists in their demise,” Ramos said.

Coral reefs are like the tropical forests of the ocean: They absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) and produce oxygen. Their biodiverse make-up provides nutrients and energy for fisheries that feed millions of people. And, their physical structures act as wave breakers, protecting coastlines from erosion and harmful effects of storm surges, said Juan Restrepo, professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at Escuela de Administración, Finanzas y Tecnología in Medellín, Colombia.

Some 40 million people directly depend on coral reef services for their livelihood throughout the Caribbean, says Ramos. Though seemingly irreplaceable and essential to the life, efforts to understand and address the threats to reefs remain limited.

“Although the stressors are well recognized, identifying which ones cause harm to a particular reef is not a trivial task,” Ramos said. “This poses a critical management question, then: How/when/where do you act? Upon which actions do you focus your efforts?”

Ramos has been a part of an interdisciplinary team responding to coral reef decline in Puerto Rico. The team observes reefs frequently while collaborating with local communities who depend on the reefs for their livelihood.

“The Puerto Rican interdisciplinary approach is unique,” Restrepo said. “It combines what is missing elsewhere: science in situ.”

The symposium intended to support future projects like Ramos’ in Puerto Rico, encouraging participants to increase collaboration among one another as well as outside agencies, scientists and communities.

“Innovative management strategies were proposed, including those that tap into private sources of funds for research and/or conservation efforts, community-based activities that enhance local governance, and reliance on the genetic diversity of corals to enhance their natural adaptive capacities to these relatively new conditions we humans have imposed upon them,” Ramos said.

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