Stability of coral reef islands and associated legal maritime zones in a changing ocean

Coral reef islands can support large legal maritime zones (i.e., ocean spaces where States have rights and responsibilities) and are of international and geopolitical importance. This review focuses on low-lying coral reef islands supplied with sediments derived from skeletons and shells of calcifying organisms. For coral islands, the outer ‘low-water line’ of the reef can be used as the legal ‘baseline’ to establish maritime zones. Coral islands and the reefs that support them are experiencing the effects of rising and warming seas, increased storminess and ocean acidification. Coral reefs, their islands and associated maritime zones support millions of people, including those in Small Island Developing States (SIDS). SIDS communities are arguably the least responsible for climate change but are at the forefront of its impacts so ensuring their continued wellbeing is a global responsibility. Securing the future of coral reefs and islands is dependent on reducing global climate threats and emissions, improving local management, and investing in restoration and adaption research. It is uncertain if coral islands will persist into the future, and on what timelines. This raises questions such as, where coral islands support maritime zones, what are the legal implications of island instability or loss? This review focuses on the bio-physical interactions of coral islands and associated reefs in the face of changing climates, and implications for legal maritime zones and SIDS.

Fellowes T. E., Anggadi F., Byrne M., Vila-Concejo A., Bruce E. & Baker E., in press. Stability of coral reef islands and associated legal maritime zones in a changing ocean. Environmental Research Letters. Article.

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