Nobel Prize-winning stock market theory helps endangered coral reefs

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A Nobel Prize-winning economic investment theory shows promising early signs to help save endangered coral reefs, scientists say.

Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia have used a mathematical framework called Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) to identify the world’s 50 coral reefs or coral sanctuaries that are most likely to survive the climate crisis and repopulate. other reefs, in the absence of other threats, according to a to study published in Conservation Letters. MPT was developed by economist Harry Markowitz in the 1950s to help risk-averse investors maximize their returns.


“It’s basically a strategy to help us make decisions about what to protect, if we’re going to have corals by the end of the century,” says Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a University of Queensland climatologist who helped lead the “50 Reefs” project, as reported by The Guardian. “This is our best chance for a long-term future for coral reefs,” he said.

Coral reefs represent less than one percent of the Earth’s surface, but, according to Smithsonian, “perhaps a quarter of all oceanic species [depend] on the reefs for food and shelter. Because of their diversity, “coral reefs are often called the rainforests of the sea”.

According to Hoegh-Guldberg in The Guardian, “Modern portfolio theory is a framework that aims to reduce risk while maximizing returns. He treats conservation somewhat as an investment opportunity.

Dr Hawthorne Beyer, a fellow at the University of Queensland who uses quantitative modeling in his research on environmental systems management, said: ‘Talk to business people and they’ll get it straight away. This is a very logical idea and makes a lot of sense. Ours was the first to apply it globally,” as The Guardian reported.

Dividing the world’s coral reefs into 190-mile “bioclimatic units” (BCUs), scientists used 174 metrics across five categories, including temperature history and projections, ocean acidification, invasive species , cyclone activity and connectivity to other coral reefs for each BCU. . They then produced estimates for each BCU. This process has given scientists the widest range of future results.

Some of the areas identified in the project include parts of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, those of Egypt and the southern Red Sea, as well as parts of the Coral Triangle near Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, as reported by The Guardian. . However, the model did not include some ecologically important areas like Hawaii and the Barrier Reef in Central America.

The project is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Vibrant Oceans initiative, along with others, and nearly $93 million has been invested.

Even if global warming were limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, which would require a dramatic reduction of nearly half global CO2 emissions by 2030 from 2010 levels, 70 to 90% of today’s corals would disappear.

“One of the biggest benefits of the 50 Reefs approach has been this compelling message that climate change is the critical threat to coral reefs and it’s an approach that can give reefs a fighting chance,” said emily darling, director of coral reef conservation for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), as reported by The Guardian.

Darling said it’s beneficial to have a clear idea of ​​where best to focus their conservation efforts. WCS has $18 million to fund work on 21 of 50 reefs in 11 countries.

Cristen Hemingway Jaynes is a fiction and non-fiction writer. She holds a JD and a Certificate in Ocean and Coastal Law from the University of Oregon Law School and an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London.

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