From Monday, researchers from all over the world will exchange ideas at the 15th International Coral Reef Symposium in Bremen. They raise the alarm about the endangered ecosystem – but there is also hope.

The world’s coral reefs are in a worrying state – but for the first time in a long time, researchers are hoping that the situation will improve.

Internationally, a lot of money is now flowing into reef protection measures and reforestation projects, says Professor Christian Wild from the University of Bremen, which is organizing the 15th International Coral Reef Symposium ICRS in the Hanseatic city, which begins on Monday.

1100 researchers from more than 80 countries

The event had to be canceled in 2020 due to the corona virus and was organized purely virtually by Wild and his team last year. Around 1,100 researchers from more than 80 countries are expected to attend the face-to-face event this time by Friday, with around 500 experts also wanting to join in virtually. The Coral Reef Conference will be held in Europe for the first time and will be opened by Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens).

A team of researchers published a strategy paper at the 14th International Coral Reef Symposium in 2021, calling on politicians to take concrete measures against the die-off. “We got a lot of attention for it,” says co-author Wild, who heads the Marine Ecology department at the University of Bremen. Things have been in motion since then. “Political support is so great.”

Threats of overfishing, pollution and climate change

The main causes of the coral reef crisis are overfishing and ocean pollution, as well as climate change. But the ecosystems are also very capable of regeneration. “The hard corals that build the reefs have existed for 250 million years with an almost unchanged blueprint and have been exposed to more extreme environmental conditions in the history of the earth than they are now,” says Wild. However, the high speed of climate change is currently critical.

However, a lot can be achieved with measures such as the development of sustainable catch quotas against overfishing, the construction of sewage treatment plants to combat over-fertilization and the active restoration of reefs using particularly heat-resistant so-called super corals.

“We can strengthen coral reefs with targeted measures like this, while gaining the time we probably need to get climate change under control,” emphasizes Wild. “However, none of these measures, no matter how costly they are, will not help against the coral reef crisis in the long term if we do not succeed in reducing climate change in a timely and effective manner.”

The symposium, which has been held since 1967, is considered the most important event on coral reef ecosystems. According to the organizers, the congress will be carried out in a climate-neutral manner for the first time. Experts from poorer countries will also be able to take part virtually free of charge for the first time.