Rethinking atoll futures: local resilience to global challenges

Elsevier, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Volume 39, March 2024
Steibl S., Kench P.S., Young H.S., Wegmann A.S., Holmes N.D., Bunbury N. et al.

Atoll islands are often perceived as inevitably lost due to rising sea levels. However, unlike other islands, atoll islands are dynamic landforms that have evolved, at least historically, to vertically accrete at a pace commensurate with changing sea levels. Rather than atoll islands’ low elevation per se, the impairment of natural accretion processes is jeopardising their persistence. While global marine impacts are deteriorating coral reefs, local impacts also significantly affect accretion, together potentially tipping the scales toward atoll island erosion. Maintaining atoll island accretion requires intact sediment generation on coral reefs, unobstructed sediment transport from reef to island, and available vegetated deposition sites on the island. Ensuring the persistence of atoll islands must include global greenhouse gas emission reduction and local restoration of accretion processes.