Traditionally, protection efforts often focused on the best-preserved areas of plant or animal life, but these are not always the best positioned to adapt. For example, mangrove swamps at the edge of plains might be overlooked by environmentalists because they are easily accessible to people living nearby and so often in bad condition, while remote outcrops below steep hills can seem better havens of biodiversity, Salm said.
But to survive warming seas, the plants will need the room to retreat slowly inland that flatter areas offer. And experts say humans need mangroves to protect them from storm surges and slow the impact of rising oceans. "Nature is relying on us. In addition to reducing emissions, we need to help natural systems adapt to climate change in order to sustain the processes that make life liveable," said Stephanie Meeks, President and CEO of the Nature Conservancy.
"No matter how successful mitigation efforts may be, this planet and its people are already committed to a substantial amount of warming and associated impacts of climate change," she said.
Coral reefs, which nurture fisheries and have already suffered mass die-offs or "bleachings" because of warmer waters, are another system in urgent need of protection, Salm said. Rather than trying to farm heat-resistant or adaptable corals, protection efforts should focus on reefs in water cooled naturally by shade or currents, and those positioned to supply larvae to repopulate damaged areas after a bleaching.
Pacific islanders already suffering the impact of global warming are working on projects to protect the ecosystems that support their traditional way of life, the President of the tiny South Pacific nation of