Ocean acidification, climate change & people

Ocean acidification and climate change are two interrelated global environmental changes that are getting an increased attention due to their potential dramatic impacts on people and ecosystems.

In this respect, the example of coral reefs is eloquent. Ocean acidification and elevated sea surface temperature cause coral reef bleaching and coral mortality. These threats damage coral reefs and may result in a loss of the ecosystem services they provide. Our research, carried out by Linwood Pendleton, Adrien Comte and over 15 collaborators, use an indicator approach to map human dependence on the coral reefs and the principle threats to corals from a high-CO2 world.

The goal is to illustrate where new science and data could help coral reef-dependent human communities to cope with increasing atmospheric CO2.

Many people in the world are dependent on coral reefs. Photo credit: forum.linvoyage.com via Visualhunt / CC BY

Coral Reefs and People in a High-CO2 World


Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere put shallow, warm-water coral reefs, and the people who depend upon them at risk from two key global environmental stresses: elevated sea surface temperature and ocean acidification. These global stresses cannot be avoided by local management, compound local stresses and hasten the loss of ecosystem services. Impacts to people will be most grave where:

  1. human dependence on coral reefs is high,
  2. sea surface temperature reaches critical levels soonest,
  3. ocean acidification levels are most severe.

Where these elements align, swift action will be needed to protect people’s lives and livelihoods, but such action must be informed by data and science.

Designing policies to offset potential harm to coral reefs and people requires a better understanding of where CO2-related global environmental stresses could cause the most severe impacts. Mapping indicators has been proposed as a way of combining natural and social science data to identify policy actions even when the science to understand the problem is in relatively early stages.

To identify where people are at risk and where more science is needed, we integrate spatially-explicit indicators from biological, physical and social sciences to map human dependence on the coral reefs and the globally-driven threats to corals from a high-CO2 world. Western Mexico, Micronesia, Indonesia and parts of Australia have high human dependence and will likely face severe combined threats. As a region, Southeast Asia is particularly at risk. These areas require new data and interdisciplinary scientific research to help coral reef-dependent human communities better cope with, prepare for, and adapt to increasing atmospheric CO2. Many of the countries most dependent upon coral reefs are also the countries for which we have the least robust data on ocean acidification.

More information on the publication

This research was funded by Prince Albert II Foundation, SESYNC, Agence Nationale de Recherche and the Region of Brittany, France. It has gathered more than 17 international collaborators from a variety of disciplines. Local collaborators are Adrien Comte and Linwood Pendleton.

The International Chair in Marine Ecosystem Services (IC-MES) strives for open-access research articles. This is why we submitted the article to PLoS One, where it should be publicly accessible if accepted.

  • Coral Reefs and People in a High-CO2 World: where can Science make a difference to people?, by Linwood Pendleton, Adrien Comte, Chris Langdon et al., in review in: PLoS One

Sesync is one of the founders of our research on coral reefs       Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation is the main founder of our research on Coral Reefs        LabexMER is hosting the International Chair in Marine Ecosystem Services       Our paper on coral reefs was published by the open-access journal Plos One


See also : publication on a new approach to coral reef research, tackling multiple stressors and ecological complexity.