The end of the year always provides an opportunity to reflect, download and consider. For me 2018 has been a huge year of change. A small addition to my world resulted in me taking a few months away from my work, something I never imagined would be possible both professionally and personally. But this little creator of change (A.K.A Olivia) forced me to step away from the daily running of Reef-World and become immersed in something a little less salty and a little more vomit-ridden.
Upon re-entry to my Reef-World work I was unprepared for the rollercoaster ride ahead. Yes, taking a couple of months away would mean that there would be a readjustment phase, but this felt very different. The language being used by my fellow Reef-World colleagues had shifted a gear, the response rate to e-mails was electric, the timescales we were talking about for getting work done had halved. But, we were still only 5 people … doing the same jobs we were doing when I left … what had happened? The urgency and demand for our work seemed to be pressing us in a way we had never felt before. At the same time the process of getting back up to speed with recent marine science and conservation developments was setting a miserable scene for my future hope of marine ecosystem health. Recent findings were not positive.
The International Panel on Climate Change released information pressing the urgency for taking immediate steps in order to limit increasing global temperatures as a result of climate change, or the impact would be catastrophic for our natural world. Our news seemed to be filled with extreme weather events (here in the UK we were experiencing a tropical-like endless summer), forest fires were ripping through California and global political leaders seemed to be reversing their focus on the environment. A review of progress towards achieving the targets set by the Biodiversity Target 10 (minimising anthropogenic pressures on coral reefs) showed that we had collectively failed, in a pretty monumental fashion. 2018 was shaping up to be the biggest polluting year, and sure enough end of year figures show that increase in CO2 emissions this year have been up by 2.7% which is the highest increase over a year ever.
But then something magical happened. The power of a collective voice, a shift in awareness, the opening of consciousness to the need for change started reaching out and touching me from every angle. The David Attenborough effect, as a result of his call to action at the end of the brilliant Blue Planet 2, was filtering through.
At the same time, Reef-World decided to put a big focus on supporting the International Year of the Reef 2018 through our Green Fins communications. The results have been powerful. Drawing out stories of change from our local environmental champions for this campaign reflected serious commitments to environmental protection. Feedback on our calls to action showed how much the guidance was being taken up and resulting meaningful change out on our reefs. It was joyous, and empowering.
I have just returned from my annual pilgrimage to join the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) General Meeting. Here the feeling of change continued. A few years ago these meetings were overshadowed by the unveiling of the latest indicators for ocean reef health showing pretty devastating results, the seriousness of which were surprising even the most in tune of coral reef experts. Unfortunately the nature of these results hasn’t become any more positive, but the energy behind our mission to save coral reefs seems to have changed. This year there were more entities applying for membership than I have ever seen in a single year of ICRI (since our involvement in 2009). More governments attended the meeting than I’ve seen before. Talk of a dedicated Global Coral Reef Fund, a Global Coral Reef Campaign and Global Coral Reef Targets to be included in the post 2020 agenda of the Convention of Biological Diversity set a very different tone to anything I’ve experience previously at these meetings. Things seem to be ramping up.
Momentum seems to be gathering; unfortunately this is fuelled by widespread environmental devastation. But I feel like public awareness and acceptance to this change, and what’s needed to start to make a difference, is changing. This for me is inspiring, because in the end it’s not coral reef experts who will save coral reefs, nor the government authorities tasked with protecting them, but the collective voice and actions of society. Hopefully 2019 will see us reach critical mass in efforts to change public perception for the need to protect our marine environment. And hopefully, we can use this to actually change the future outlook for our coral reefs. And once again, hopefully, this will result in my new little creator of change one day being able to enjoy discovering the wonders of coral reefs and the underwater cities they support.
Enthused by this change in energy, I’m hopeful for 2019 and the changes it will bring for us at Reef-World and the communities and marine world we’re supporting – are you?