Reef businesses adapt to climate change

Researchers have been examining how businesses operating on the Great Barrier Reef have been trying to adapt to a warming climate – with many becoming involved in action against climate change.

James Cook University PhD candidate Henry Bartelet led the study. He said coral reefs are increasingly affected by climate-induced disturbances, magnified by increasing ocean temperatures.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is highly confident that almost all tropical coral reefs will suffer significant losses even if global warming is limited to 1.5 °C,” Mr Bartelet said.

“The world will most likely push through the 1.5 °C carbon budget before the year 2030, so it’s highly likely that industries dependent on healthy coral reefs will be severely affected over the coming decades.”

He said despite this, the effects of coral loss and the capacity of people and businesses to adapt to it are poorly understood, particularly in the private sector.

The research team surveyed 57 reef operators offering recreation-based activities such as diving and snorkelling, directly linked to coral reefs. They asked the businesspeople about their responses to severe impacts from coral bleaching and cyclones in the years 2016-17.

“Taking measures to help the reef recover was the primary response to bleaching, while cyclone-affected operators prioritized product diversification and measures to provide immediate relief,” Mr Bartelet said.

“Spatial diversification – moving to different sites – was a common response to both bleaching and cyclone impacts.”

About half the operators surveyed became involved in action against climate change. The researchers also found one unexpected response that they had not included in the survey questions – some businesses had chosen to educate visitors about climate impacts.

“It’s unsure whether the current responses enhance longer-term resilience,” Mr Bartelet said.

“The options for relocating to unaffected sites will become more limited, as threats from elevated water temperatures and changes in disturbance regimes will increase.

“Whether local restoration efforts are effective in helping the reef recover also requires further research.

“It could be argued that current adaptive responses are mainly ‘buying time’ until more robust adaptation and mitigation strategies are being developed and undertaken.”

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