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Global Coral Reef Week: Conferences with Low Carbon Emission gain momentum during COVID-19

#Providenciales, July 6, 2020 – Many coral reef scientists see exceptional value in sharing research with colleagues and the public, but also struggle with the high ecological and financial costs of attending traditional conferences. The ecological costs include carbon emissions from the travel of attendees. Thereby, a traditional conference designed to strengthen global knowledge on coral reefs directly contributes to the destruction of coral reefs.

With multiple widespread bleaching events in the past 5 years and the emergence of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease as an immediate threat, we are truly at the point where we need all hands on deck to tackle climate change and the protection of our reefs. There are many things we can all do to contribute to the battle against the climate crisis. Frankly, we need to do them all. We needed to be doing them all decades ago. While we need societal and political support to be effective in slowing down the climate crisis and avoiding the worst predictions, coral reef scientists, managers, and enthusiasts can lead by example by changing our business-as-usual approach to conferences to decrease our carbon emissions. We cannot save the reefs through research alone. We also need to be part of the energy that drives the necessary unprecedented social change.


When people asked the late Ruth Gates, ‘what can I do to help save the coral reefs?’ she advised that we pick something and do it. That’s what has been done with Global Coral Reef Week. The organizers decided it was time for the coral reef research community to have a conference format that did not require them to emit CO2 through flying. With a vision of virtually connecting a collection of local hubs across the globe, so that participants could network in person with their local colleagues while sharing their research with the global community, in August of 2019, Chelsie Counsell, Franziska Elmer & Judith Lang, committed their spare time to organizing Global Coral Reef Week.

With low CO2 emissions and high access to science as our core mission statement, they welcomed every location interested to host a local event. The School for Field Studies on South Caicos was one of these 16 international locations that decided to be part of the first ever Global Coral Reef Week. We excited about this idea because traditional conferences are often out of reach for local scientists and practitioners due to the financial costs of attendance.


The world doesn’t always follow plans, and as COVID-19 continues to up-end everyone’s sense of normal, we are operating entirely virtually for the inaugural Global Coral Reef Week conference. We have over 100 contributed research talks and recorded workshops available for viewing on the Global Coral Reef Week YouTube channel, nine plenary talks followed by live discussion sessions with the speakers, three live sessions with multiple speakers dedicated to specific locations and topics, two virtual networking events, and a trivia event. Thanks to sponsorship from The Company of Biologists, Tradewind Colours, Marine Conservation without Borders, and donations from colleagues, this virtual conference is completely free. To date, over 1000 people have registered to participate in Global Coral Reef Week, partly due to immense advertisement in Brazil by Encontro Recifal Brasileiro.

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