12 May 2021
Five A’s of the Coral Reef Indicators
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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ICRI has issued a recommendation to support negotiations on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, to ensure coral reef protection is prioritized and monitored.

We have already lost 50% of coral reefs globally, and they continue to decline due to climate change, pollution, over-fishing, and destructive fishing.

The recommendation includes five indicators to measure changes in reef extent and integrity, which includes the health and functioning of the reef.

By Francis Staub, Emily Corcoran, and Janet Greenlee

Coral reefs play a fundamental role in the health and function of our planet, affecting us all in many aspects of our lives, whether we live near a reef or not. These services will not be able to continue if reefs lose their integrity or are destroyed. To ensure the post-2020 global biodiversity framework prioritizes coral reef protection, ICRI has issued a recommendation to support negotiations under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Although they only cover 0.2% of the ocean floor, coral reefs support 25% of marine species and provide trillions of US dollars in economic services. A recent estimate indicates coral reefs account for USD 2.7 trillion per year in ecosystem service value.

We have already lost 50% of coral reefs globally, and they continue to decline due to climate change, pollution, over-fishing, and destructive fishing. This puts at risk the safety, wellbeing, food, cultural heritage, and economic security of at least one billion people. Intact, resilient coral reef ecosystems are an important part of solutions to adapt to the impacts of climate change and achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) is an informal partnership to preserve coral reefs and related ecosystems around the world. The Initiative was founded in 1994 by eight governments: Australia, France, Japan, Jamaica, the Philippines, Sweden, the UK, and the US. ICRI membership includes a mix of governments, NGOs, and international organizations. Today, ICRI counts over 90 members, including 44 countries, who are custodians of 75% of the world’s coral reefs.

In May 2020 ICRI members adopted a recommendation by consensus, setting out how coral reefs could be sufficiently recognized within the CBD’s post-2020 global biodiversity framework. The recommendation was developed over 18 months by an ad hoc committee, comprising governments, experts, and organizations, to ensure this critical ecosystem is sufficiently addressed within the framework.

The recommendation encourages CBD Parties to ensure: the explicit and prominent recognition of coral reef ecosystems and their “disproportionate contribution to ecological, social and economic systems”; language to ensure the continued provision of coral reef ecosystem services; and a balance between simplicity in expression of goals and targets and SMART characteristics to foster immediate and focused actions for particularly vulnerable and important ecosystems such as coral reefs, through relevant language or biome (or ecosystem) specific sub-targets.

In addition, the recommendation calls for the post-2020 framework to contain clear, specific, and actionable indicators to measure changes in reef extent and integrity, which includes the health and functioning of the reef. These metrics will also enable an improved consistency of information available at global and regional scales contributing to a more informative overview of changes in coral reef systems.

The proposed indicators are based on the elements of healthy coral reefs: 

  • Live Coral Cover — provides a snapshot of overall coral reef health
  • Coral Reef Extent — determines whether the area of coral reef systems is increasing or decreasing
  • Fleshy Algae Cover and cover of key benthic groups — indicates coral reef health, increases in algal cover can show declining health
  • Fish Abundance and Biomass — marks the function and productivity of coral reefs
  • Percent Coral Reefs Effectively Protected — measures commitment to protecting coral reefs
  • Index of Coastal Eutrophication — signals water quality impacts in coastal areas

Each coral reef indicator has been thoughtfully considered for its scientific validity, usefulness at national, regional and global scales, and widespread availability to reporting parties.

 The indicators recommended by ICRI adhere to “five A’s.” They are accessible, not lofty, esoteric indicators that no one can measure. In fact, they are already being used. The indicators create accountability. Taken together, they will ensure our global commitment to protecting a critical ecosystem can be tracked and our progress measured. The proposed indicators also holistically assess progress by measuring the most important elements of the vitality and integrity of coral reef systems.

 The other two “A’s” of the coral reef indicators recommended by ICRI are that they guide adaptive action by helping to identify various options for improving coral health, and that the indicators generate global alignment and consistency, including measurement standards to understand the status and changing dynamics of our coral reefs in a more coherent way.

Since negotiations on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework were delayed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, ICRI has been working through many channels to safeguard our coral reef ecosystems and those who depend on it. The negotiations are now getting back on track. The science and implementation bodies of the CBD will meet virtually from 3 May to 13 June 2021, to address elements of the framework and other key issues on the protection and sustainable use of biodiversity and the equitable sharing of benefits from the use of genetic resources. SBSTTA-24 will provide scientific and technical to support the review of the draft framework with analyses of the linkages between the proposed goals, targets and monitoring framework of the post-2020 framework and the Sustainable Development Goals within the scope of the CBD.

ICRI is providing supporting materials to accompany the ICRI Recommendation, including infographics in several languages, a one-minute video, a negotiation kit (with technical resources for SBSTTA 24 formal sessions) and voices of support. All this information is available on the ICRI website. You can allow follow #ForCoral on Twitter.

This guest article is authored by: Francis Staub, Global Coordinator, International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) Secretariat; Emily Corcoran, ICRI Consultant; and Janet Greenlee, Director of Communications, Vulcan Inc.


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