Climate Impacts on Coral Reefs and People a “Two-Way Street”

Coral Garden
Photo: Great Barrier Reef by Richard Ling

I was part of an international research team that have developed a novel framework to help elucidate the different ways climate change can impact coral reefs and reef-depended societies.

In a paper published in the journal Regional Environmental Change, we propose that climate impacts on coral reefs and people are like a two-way street. That is, climate impacts operate in both directions, not only from environment to people – the focus of much of the research on climate change and coral reefs to date – but also from people to environment.

The “two-way street” framework emphasises how some climate impacts, such as severe tropical storms directly affect human societies with repercussions for how they interact with the environment. The framework underscores the diverse impacts that need to be considered to develop a more complete understanding of climate impacts.

Climate change is a major long-term threat to coral reefs, and is predicted to affect millions of people, particularly in developing countries, who depend on goods and services (for example, fisheries, coastal protection and tourism) provided by coral reefs.

Understanding the different ways in which climate change affects the environment and people, as well as how societal response to these impacts affect natural resources and the environment is fundamental in developing appropriate management actions in coral reef social–ecological systems.

Cinner et al. 2015. Framework for Understanding Climate Change Impacts on Coral Reef Social-Ecological SystemsRegional Environmental Change,