, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 831-837,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 23 Aug 2009

Coral reef science and the new commons

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We humans have inadvertently triggered the emergence of a new Earth system: a new geological epoch called the Anthropocene (Crutzen 2002; Steffen et al. 2007). It is replacing the Holocene, the epoch in which civilisation evolved. Coral reefs, together with all other ecosystems on the planet, are being swept up in this change.

The changes are so complex that they are overwhelming the ability of traditional science to comprehend them, and their consequences are so profound that they demand a new compact between science and society. This compact, we shall argue, is really an old one, but one, nevertheless, that is new to coral reef science. Coral reef science is doomed to irrelevance unless it embraces it.

In this view, the issue is not to ‘save’ coral reef ecosystems from humans but to reshape them to survive the Anthropocene together with humans—it is not to conserve species as an end in itself but to retain useful system functions and hence fitness for their joint purpose with humans.

Communicated by Editor-in-Chief Professor Rolf PM Bak.