Remoteness does not enhance coral reef resilience, according to marine ecologists


There’s a widespread hypothesis that links the resilience of coral reefs with their remoteness from human activities—the farther away they are from people, the more likely corals are to bounce back from disturbances.

“The idea is that these coral reefs might serve as arks, that they could harbor biodiversity and intact ecosystems,” said UC Santa Barbara marine ecologist Adrian Stier of these ancient and fragile colonial organisms, most of which are under threat both locally, as from destructive fishing practices, and globally, as from ocean warming and acidification. “The hope is that these isolated areas might serve as a safe haven, and in the future, potentially repopulate areas that have been degraded.

However when Stier and colleagues put that hypothesis to the test, they found it didn’t hold. No matter how remote some populations of corals were, on average they demonstrated no more resilience to acute disturbances than reefs with a greater human influence. And, contrary to expectations, there is some evidence that areas with greater human development may recover from disturbance faster than their more isolated counterparts.

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