The status and conservation of reefs, mangroves and seagrasses was a key subject of the fifth annual Wetlands Workshop sponsored by the Environmental Law Institute and Stetson University College of Law’s Institute for Biodiversity Law and Policy on Nov. 9 at Stetson’s campus in Gulfport, Florida.

The workshop “Conserving the Coasts: The State of Marine Ecosystems and Coastal Compensatory Mitigation,” was co-sponsored by the Environmental and Land Use Law Section of the Florida Bar and by Mechanik Nuccio Hearne and Wester, P.A.
Two lectures and panel discussions followed a field trip focused on Tampa Bay Watch’s aquatic restoration projects.

The lectures included Dr. Max Finlayson from Charles Sturt University, Australia, and Dr. Frank Muller-Karger, University of South Florida and lead investigator on the Sanctuaries Marine Biodiversity Observation Network (MBON) project, which GCOOS is partnered on.

Finlayson discussed climate change impacts on corals of the Great Barrier Reef and mangrove ecosystems of Kakadu National Park. He summed up his message about large-scale climate change impacts: “When we’re driven by crisis it is often too late to turn back.”

Muller-Karger also provided compelling information on the status and conservation of reefs. “Coral reefs are one of the most beautiful marine ecosystems that many people have a chance to visit regularly, either for fishing or diving,” he said. “Around the world, coral reefs provide some form of livelihood for over 270 million people, and generate over $30 billion (U.S.) in revenue every year. Sustaining these benefits will need us to make better maps of the living and non-living resources on the reef on an ongoing basis. Most reef habitats of the world have not even been mapped once. Such observations and monitoring may help implement local programs to conserve the reefs and sustain their use as they risk more and more uses from more people, at the same time that ocean temperatures warm up and sea level rises with climate change. This affects us all in one way or another as the very reef we may want to visit as a tourist may be gone and covered by algae when we get there the next time. It is our responsibility to help these systems survive.”

According to Dr. Chris Simoniello, GCOOS Outreach and Education lead who is providing support for the MBON project, “it is encouraging to see law students early in their careers taking interest in environmental issues that require global policy solutions. The climate change story can’t be one of gloom and doom. These young, energetic students remind us that we need to link the environmental issues with solutions and hope.”
·      Dr. Muller-Karger’s presentation