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Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) is a model that is used in finance and investments to identify a portfolio of options that can maximise return on investment. We applied this approach to coral reef conservation planning to identify a portfolio of reefs that are expected to be among the least impacted by climate change, while also safeguarding against the uncertainty of future climate conditions. 

This concept is based on the analysis from a project called 50 Reefs, which provides key metrics where these survivor reefs are going to be found through future climate modelling of up to 2 degrees celsius. This is a network of 50 sites globally that are less exposed to climate change (Beyer et al 2018Hoegh-Guldberg et al. 2018), developed as a collaboration between the University of Queensland and Underwater Earth, and helping frame the CRRI across seven countries (Indonesia, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Cuba, East Africa, Madagascar and Fiji).

Our research

We identified coral reefs around the world that are less vulnerable to climate change and better connected to other coral reef systems. This work informs our long-term strategic planning, by identifying priority areas for conservation over the coming decades. 

Reefs are impacted by a wide variety of threats, but climate change is by far the biggest danger. We identified a suite of metrics and used this as a basis for identifying coral reef conservation priorities. The metrics included:

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Historical ocean warming

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Expected future ocean warming

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Risk of cyclone damage

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Larval connectivity among reefs

Risk & reward

Ignoring risk is in itself a high-risk strategy. Our MPT approach factors future risk into the equation, so that even if some locations in the portfolio are severely impacted by climate change, we have a safety net. By protecting those reefs and helping them to recover following disturbance, they can help other neighbouring locations to be recolonised when conditions have stabilised.

Let’s build a
climate-ready future!

To restore the world's coral reefs, we need support from all sectors. From individuals and communities to governments and industries, collaboration is the key.