New York City, N.Y. (EMBARGO LIFTS 10AM ET, Sept. 18, 2023) – Despite widespread news about recent mass coral bleaching events, new science from WCS says there is still time to save coral reefs, if we act quickly. Evidence gathered underwater by researchers from dozens of different countries around the world shows surprising signs of resilience from the ocean’s most biodiversity-rich ecosystems, suggesting that more coral reefs have hope to survive climate change up to 1.5 degrees Celsius than were previously thought.

While scientists have understood for years that some coral reefs can avoid climate change due to their location in rare ocean "cool spots," new data shows that many reefs can be hit by climate change-induced warm water events and are still able to resist bleaching. Other reefs are proving shockingly resilient, quickly recovering even after being impacted by warming events or massive storms.

Out now in Conservation Biology, the new study broadens the pool of coral reef ecosystems around the world that have the potential to survive some of the “locked-in” impacts of climate change.

Said Dr. Emily Darling, WCS Director of Coral Reef Conservation and study co-author:

“As the world races to protect 30 percent of the planet by 2030, it will be critical to conserve a connected network of climate resilient coral reefs as a global plan for coral reef biodiversity that supports over half a billion people on the frontlines of climate change.  This study lays out the science we need to identify this important blueprint for conservation.”

While WCS has already identified and mapped some of these new coral refuges, researchers expect that there may be many more throughout the ocean waiting to be found and protected. As coral reef countries start to move toward implementing the global 30x30 commitment in their national waters, timing is everything.

The global community now has the tools and science needed to find all of those climate-resilient reefs, and WCS is mounting a call for a renewed global collaboration, using common data platforms, to identify and map these reefs so that WCS can work with government and community partners to protect them on the road to 2030.