Can we still save coral reefs and what if we don't?

Coral reefs are among the most biodiverse and threatened biomes on Earth, and are a widely recognised conservation priority.  The many direct human pressures affecting coral reef ecosystems, severe as they are, have been eclipsed in recent years by a succession of coral bleaching events induced by climate change.

Reefs are proving to be more sensitive to the environmental responses of atmosphere CO2 levels than generally assumed, and this reality is challenging both the habitat-threat assessment process and conservation policy.  Speakers discussed what the latest observations and scientific understanding suggest about a viable future for corals, drawing on ZSL-facilitated fieldwork in British Indian Ocean Territory that assessed how emerging global environmental threats are impacting otherwise pristine and protected reef systems.  If the reefs are lost, what are the probable social-economic ramifications and future impacts on biodiversity?


Charles Sheppard has been researching marine habitats for 40 years, especially coral reefs and other tropical habitats, especially effects of man upon them. His work was recognised in 2015 as being one of the ‘Top 20 most impressive examples of UK research contributing to global development.’ by a group of 14 UK government bodies, (selected from the 7,000 UK scientists submitted in University assessment exercise).  He has been editor of the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin for much of this time, and is now Editor of Advances in Marine Biology. Charles has written 250 papers and articles, and about 12 books (written or edited). He has been on advisory panels for EU, Arabian and UK grant bodies (marine science), was a review member of Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change from 2004, and has been the Advisor on environmental matters to Commissioner of UK Overseas Territories. In 2014 he was awarded the OBE for services for the latter. Most especially, he, with his wife Anne, a photographer and marine biologist, enjoys diving and researching coral reefs.

Anne Sheppard has worked in marine science for 40 years, primarily in the field of taxonomy and coral reef ecology.   She has also taken many underwater photographs, using them to illustrate the beauty and problems of coral reefs, and she wrote the book Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Seas for the Natural History Museum for their special coral reef exhibit,  which included many of the photographs she has taken over the years.

She has been a co author of several research papers and coral taxonomy works, the most recent being the online Coral Identification guide to Corals of Chagos, for which she again supplied most of the images.


  • Professor John Turner, Bangor University, and Rachel Jones, ZSL
    Coral Reef Condition in the Chagos Archipelago, British Indian Ocean Territory;
    Monitoring for BIOT’s management needs, and reef change and resilience research

    PDF icon Talk slides - John Turner and Rachel Jones (2.81 MB)

John Turner is a marine biologist working in the field of marine conservation, protection and management. His projects have developed ecosystem based Marine Protected Area systems (eg. in Cayman islands), often linking with terrestrial systems (eg. In Socotra) and the effects of climate change (coral bleaching, coastal protection in various Indian Ocean island states including BIOT).  He has introduced practices of monitoring and adaptive management in Environmental Impact Assessment (eg. for waste water, Mauritius) and developed and implemented baseline survey methods for the sustainable use of marine biodiversity (eg. Socotra & Andaman Islands). He developed an international masters course in Marine Environmental Protection, and is Dean of Postgraduate Research at Bangor University.

Rachel Jones has worked for ZSL for 20 years, for most of that time in London Zoo’s aquarium collecting and caring for the country’s largest collection of live coral. Rachel has had a long relationship with the British Indian Ocean Territory since first going there in 2006. She was actively involved in the campaign to have it declared a marine reserve in 2010 and has been fascinated by it ever since.  Since January this year she has been the project manager for the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science.


David Obura is a Director of CORDIO East Africa, a research organization focused on coral reef and marine systems in the Western Indian Ocean. His primary research is on coral reef resilience, climate change, and the biogeography of Indian Ocean corals. This work provides a platform for contributing to regional scale marine management in the Northern Mozambique Channel and in relation to sustainable development principles. He chairs the IUCN Coral Specialist Group and is spearheading parallel initiatives to strengthen global coral reef monitoring and compiling a global assessment of coral and coral reef vulnerability.
(Talk presented by Paul Pearce-Kelly, ZSL)


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