29 Dec 2023
2024 is a year full of potential - both good and bad
Each year of the 21st century is a bag of mixed feelings for nature conservationists. At once, everyone is happy and proud about the achievements of the year, but work-satisfaction is overshadowed by the obvious state of the natural world and it’s residents.
This is how we feel at Coralku as the year ends. 2023 was our most successful year: we won the Coral Accelerator Program Award (CAP) 2022 by the CORDAP Foundation, we received a lot more coral adoptions by generous citizens than previously in 2022, we planted more corals than ever before, and we tested over 2,000 corals for climate resilience, which is perhaps the largest experimental study of this kind until today. And yet, despite all the achievements, we are looking forward to 2024 with great concern and enthusiasm alike.
2024 might bring the grim reaper
It has been clear for a while now, that climate change is warming up the oceans to threaten the existence of coral reefs worldwide. Sadly, 2023 was another record-breaking year of ocean warming. This warming was accelerated by the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) weather phenomenon that occurs naturally, but the data clearly shows how climate change has heated up the atmosphere and the oceans. In other words, such record-breaking El Niño years are only possible due to background warming caused by climate change.
Climate change and El Niño acting in synchrony. The images show ocean temperatures (yellow-orange-red) during a strong El Niño in 1982 (upper image), and during the present El Niño in May 2023 (lower image). The differences between these two is the result of ocean heating that itself is driven by climate change.
What this means for corals is clear: a possible global coral bleaching event is very likely and billions of corals across the planet might die if mass bleaching occurs. In many parts of the world, record ocean heat in 2023 led to severe heat stress on coral reefs, literally at levels that were off the scale. In Florida, coral reef restoration organizations scrambled to save their precious corals, and the entire coral restoration community was served a grim reminder of what is to come (yet again).
Record after record – what now?
The outlook for 2024 is evident, and we are extremely worried about corals in Malaysia. But what gives us hope is our new Project ASSIST. Thanks to our large-scale testing of coral heat tolerance in September-October 2023, we have the possibility to fully understand whether these fitness tests accurately identify corals that have a higher resilience to heat stress, and thus, these have a better chance of surviving long-term ocean warming. If our research proves successful, we will be able to select the most heat tolerant corals and build coral nurseries with thousands of these ‘best corals’. More importantly, this research has a huge potential to help other coral restoration groups in Malaysia and elsewhere, if we can show that fitness testing results in higher survival and growth rates of corals used in restoration.
Experimental heat stress fitness tests carried out by Coralku scientists in September - October, 2023.
2024 - a year of growth
Next to our Super Coral research and Project ASSIST, we are planning on launching our Coral Centre at Summer Bay Resort to raise awareness and enable island tourists to join us for coral planting activities. To do this, we are increasing our team, and we are enhancing all our partnerships. We are also excited to be part of another big research project that will test whether nutritional supplements can boost the coral’s resilience to heat stress. And as always, we are planning to plant as many corals as possible and to protect our reefs from every other source of degradation. So never mind the odds, no time to waste, right? Our key goals for 2024 are:
Build 70 new coral nurseries with the most heat tolerant corals
Validate our fitness tests results with observations during extreme marine heatwaves
Plant at least 5,000 corals
Increase our education & outreach activities
Continue all our long-term stuides on coral reef health, coral restoration success, and climate change impacts on coral reesfs
2024 may be a decisive year for coral reef restoration. Even if Project ASSIST exceeds all expectations, we must take significant and immediate action to reduce and halt global warming. No coral will survive if the warming of our planet is not stopped. We all play a role in this, so if you cannot support us in any other way, support the climate movement through your vote and individual action: make noise, be brave, and stay tuned!