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According to the report, coral reefs in the Pacific remain “less stressed” compared to reefs elsewhere, with strong potential for coral, fish and invertebrate populations to recover following damaging events.

However, the report concludes that while many Pacific reefs appear healthy and resilient now, “the outlook is poor” over the longer term as a result of increasing human-induced threats and global climate change.

27 September 2018: The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP, or UN Environment) launched a report titled, ‘Status and Trends of Coral Reefs for the Pacific,’ which highlights the role of the region’s coral reefs in the life and culture of eight million Pacific islanders. The report will contribute to reporting for the SDGs and is a response to the priorities identified in the SAMOA Pathway and Pacific Oceanscape Framework.

The report is the culmination of a two-year process initiated at the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) Pacific Workshop, which took place in 2016. The preparation of regional periodic coral reef assessments is the main substantive activity of the GCRMN. UNEP and SPREP developed the report in partnership with the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) and the Centre for Island Research and Environmental Observatory (CRIOBE), with financial support from the Governments of France, Sweden and the US. The report is also expected to inform the mid-term review of the SAMOA Pathway and development of the Pacific Coral Reef Action Plan 2020-2030, which SPREP coordinates.

The report analyzes long-term trends in coral reef health using primary data, including 20,000 surveys collected for 129 islands that cover nearly three decades. Although overall coral cover in the Pacific is relatively stable in comparison with other world regions, the report finds a statistically significant decline in coral cover across the Pacific reefs. In addition, coral reefs in the Pacific remain “less stressed” compared to reefs elsewhere, with strong potential for coral, fish and invertebrate populations to recover following damaging events. However, the report concludes that while many Pacific reefs appear healthy and resilient now, “the outlook is poor” over the longer term as a result of increasing human-induced threats and global climate change.

Key drivers impacting the region’s coral reefs range from overfishing and sedimentation from poor land use to unsustainable tourism.

According to the report, herbivorous fish have declined, particularly in inhabited islands, which has contributed to a shift towards more dominant coral species and a highly variable microalga cover because of the role of these fish in maintaining balance in coral ecosystems and controlling algae growth.

The main drivers of change in coral cover at large scales are coral bleaching driven by climate change, outbreaks of crown-of-thorns seastars and natural stresses from cyclones and storms. At more local scales, key drivers impacting the region’s coral reefs include overfishing and destructive fishing, sedimentation from poor land use, pollution from farming and domestic waste, coral and sand mining, coastal and inland development and unsustainable tourism. Additional threats include improper waste management and introduction of invasive species.

Traditional management practices, such as temporary or permanent closure of fisheries areas or bans on some species, remain “particularly strong in the Pacific” and play a key role in coral reef conservation. The report notes that many countries and territories have sound legislation to manage coral reefs but lack the capacity, logistic resources and occasionally the political will for enforcement.

Recommendations focus on strengthening and adapting local-scale management actions to support healthy reef communities and associated ecosystems, including for human livelihoods. The report recommends, inter alia: reducing overfishing and habitat degradation to maximize coral reef resilience; developing more marine protected areas (MPAs) and strengthening their enforcement and linkages with other MPAs; supporting community-based management efforts; improving catchment management to control damaging coastal development and reduce downstream pollution; and addressing unsustainable resource use and excess population growth. On climate change, the report calls for urgently combating climate change by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and developing national adaptation strategies.

The report includes the following countries and territories: American Samoa; the Northern Mariana Islands; Cook Islands; the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM); Fiji; French Polynesia; Guam; Hawaii; Kiribati; the Marshall Islands; New Caledonia; North Western Hawaiian Islands; Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument; Palau; Papua New Guinea (PNG); Pitcairn Islands; New Caledonia; Samoa; Tonga; Vanuatu; and Wallis and Futuna. Five Pacific island States were not included in the report due to data limitations. [Publication: Status and Trends of Coral Reefs of the Pacific] [SPREP Press Release]

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