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Behind-the-scenes on Project REGENERATE

Photo © Project REGENERATE

In recent years, the IUCN has increased its engagement in the Maldives, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean, with the development of the IUCN Maldives Marine Projects program, which aims to support the Government in addressing the environmental priorities and challenges that the Maldives faces. Project REGENERATE (Reefs Generate Environmental and Economic Resilience in Atoll  Ecosystems), a major project under this program, supports the sustainable management of coastal resources in the Maldives, particularly coral reefs, in order to build economic, social, and environmental resilience to the adverse effects of climate change. One major research activity of the project is a two-leg scientific expedition to investigate coral reef biodiversity and resilience and provide baseline ecological data for the Maldives.

The first leg of the expedition, in collaboration with the University of Queensland and the Catlin Seaview Survey, employed high tech cameras to collect data from eight atolls. The second leg of the research cruise was comprised of 17 researchers, representing  universities, research and environmental institutions from around the world, and focused on North Ari (Alifu Alifu) Atoll in the Maldives. The team documented fish abundance and species structure, benthic composition, coral population demographics, coral bleaching and disease, mobile invertebrate species, and foramnifera health. A key strategy of the project was to build local capacity by training citizen scientists in national monitoring protocols. Citizen scientists from Alifu Alifu Atoll, the capital Male and as far afield as Colombo, Sri Lanka, joined the research team, received training, and helped to collect data for their home reef. The data collected will help to assess the resilience of the coral reef ecosystem. It will also help to assess how population density affects reef health. Such assessments address important data gaps in the region and are critical in a country highly vulnerable to climate change, and also dependent on its world-renowned coral reefs and the resources that they provide. This information, combined with data from future monitoring assessments, will inform policy and management decisions in the region.

The Reef Resilience Team got a “behind-the-scenes” glimpse into this expedition from two crew members: Zach Caldwell, The Nature Conservancy’s Dive Safety Officer, and Amir Schmidt, IUCN Maldives Marine Projects Field Officer.

Reef Resilience (RR): Can you tell us a little bit about how this project came about?

Zach Caldwell (ZC): There was a predicted sea temperature rise this year in the waters around the Maldives. Because we know that corals are more susceptible to bleaching and disease when thermally stressed, this created a timely opportunity to address pressing research questions on the resilience of corals in the Maldives. There seems to be quite a void in quantitative information on coral reefs in the Maldives, so the approach was to organize a comprehensive team to ensure that all necessary information was collected to answer the questions being asked.

RR: What was your role in the expedition?

Photo © Project REGENERATE

ZC: I was a member of the fish team. I worked directly with three other researchers to count and size reef fishes found along our transect line. I also worked directly with Scripps Institution of Oceanography to collect benthic data. We set up 10m x 10m plots on the seafloor and took a sequence of photos of these plots. The photos were later stitched together to make a detailed map of the sea floor. This provides us with a large permanent record of the community structure in that area at that time.  We complimented these data with fish surveys to compare fish abundance with bottom composition.

I conduct similar coral reef and fish surveys in Hawai‘i to provide our community partners with information on the health of their reefs to help inform community-based management. The Nature Conservancy Hawai‘i is currently working with 19 community partners across the State. As a research team, it’s important that we stay up-to-date on the latest monitoring protocols and also contribute to collaborative research projects like Project REGENERATE.

Amir Schmidt (AS): I had three roles to play during the expedition. My first duty was to make sure that the research team was sampling the right places at the right times. With dozens of divers and three dives per day, we had to stick to a tight time schedule! My second role was to oversee the citizen science component of the expedition. This included four local citizen scientists – two people from an environmental NGO, an assessor for Green Fins Maldives, and a representative from the Environmental Protection Agency Maldives – who helped to collect data on fish and benthic life forms, such as corals, sponges, and algae during the whole expedition and eleven community members and resort staff who joined the cruise for a day, receiving on board and in water training on monitoring protocols focused on benthic communities.

RR: How did the idea  to include local community members and scientists in the expedition come about, i.e. what was your motivation for this aspect of the project?

Training

Photo © Project REGENERATE

AS: Our goal for including community members in the expedition was to identify who locally is interested in coral reef monitoring, in order to build a network of citizen scientists to monitor our marine resources and later use this information to create a management plan.

Usually we go to the islands and conduct monitoring workshops there. This time, we took advantage of the opportunity to host the workshops on the research vessel. In addition to the training, the community members got to see what daily life on a research expedition looks like. The Maldivian island communities are small and because transportation in between them is limited, interactions of this kind are extremely rare. I think it was interesting for both the community members and researchers, and helped them to see the bigger picture.

Log on to the Network Forum to read the rest of the interview.

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Hawaii – Coral Disease


Detection of a Coral Disease Outbreak in Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi and Lessons for the Future

Location
Hanalei, Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi

The Challenge
Hanalei, on the North Shore of Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi, is a small community of about 450 permanent residents. The Hanalei region is rich in biodiversity and cultural tradition and is home to species of high conservation value. Five ahupuaʻa, the traditional Hawaiian land division, drain into Hanalei Bay. There are also three culturally important fish ponds, a traditional Hawaiian aquaculture technique that encloses or diverts stream waters into an enclosed near shore area for purposes of rearing fish for local consumption. The Hanalei River is one of fourteen American heritage Rivers in the United States.

Hanalei River and Valley

Hanalei River and Valley. © Hanalei Watershed Hui

Tourism is the main economic driver on Kauaʻi. Many community members operate small-scale tourism businesses. On the North Shore, only about 25% of the residents are long-term, permanent residents; many residential properties have been converted to vacation rentals, with many of these visitors and seasonal residents originating from the mainland United States.

The community is highly engaged in natural resource management and planning and has identified major causes of land-based pollution including the conversion of single family homes to more intense commercial uses, inefficient waste water management systems, natural erosion, over-use of fertilizers, and erosion and disturbance caused by feral pigs. Strong wave action characterizes the ocean waters surrounding Hanalei, ensuring that the water surrounding Hanalei’s reefs are generally well mixed and water residence times are low.

Answering media questions

Answering media questions about the coral disease response.
© Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources

In 2004, scientists studying the reefs on the North Shore of Kauaʻi first observed a black band coral disease at low levels. Then, in 2012, outbreak levels of the disease were reported to the volunteer reporting network, Eyes of the Reef (EOR). Scientists with the United States Geological Survey (USGS), University of Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (UH), and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have now confirmed that the disease affects three species of rice corals (Montipora capitata, M. patula, and M. flabellata), and, with some variation across sites, approximately 1-8% of colonies of these species. While these percentages are relatively low, Montipora corals are the dominant reef-building corals on North Shore reefs and therefore the disease has the potential to have a significant impact on reef structure and function. Black band coral disease can move through a coral colony very fast. Typically a disease front of cyanobacteria can be observed. It leaves behind dead coral tissue and algae covers the exposed skeleton.

Actions Taken

black band disease

Documenting the impact of the black band disease. © Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources

Once the Eyes of the Reef Network confirmed the coral disease outbreak, USGS, UH, and NOAA conducted an initial assessment, according to the established protocol of the Rapid Response Contingency Plan (RRCP). The RRCP provides the Hawaiʻi Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) and its partners with a plan to respond to events affecting reef health, including coral disease, coral bleaching, and crown-of-thorn starfish (COTS) outbreaks. The first step after receiving the report was getting partner scientists and government biologists to confirm and assess the extent of the disease. In 2012, a UH microbiology laboratory identified a cyanobacteria responsible for the disease, similar to diseases that have been observed in the Caribbean and the Indo-Pacific. A UH doctoral student surveyed Kauaʻi’s reefs in 2013 and confirmed that the disease was predominantly affecting the North Shore (86% of the 21 northern surveyed sites had the disease present, while only one site out of four in the south had the disease). The press covered the disease outbreak extensively, which brought attention and community concern about the issue.

Lesions from black band disease

Lesions from black band disease on a coral (healthy coral is to the left of the disease front, dead coral is to the right). © University of Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology

There is relatively little known about coral diseases and less about how to manage diseased reefs; therefore, research is a major part of the first phase response. DAR partners are currently undertaking studies on diverse topics including disease transmission, potential treatments, the influence of coral health on coral susceptibility to the black band coral disease, how environmental factors correlate to the incidences of black band disease, and an experimental treatment option. This research will provide essential information to more effectively identify management options.

Members of the coral disease laboratory at University of Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology have been piloting an experimental treatment for affected coral colonies. Application of marine epoxy putty to edges of the disease lesions on affected corals has been found to effectively stop or slow disease progression on corals and a larger trial of effectiveness is a next step.

How Successful Has it Been?
In January 2014, DAR formed a Management Response Team with the partners that conducted the initial disease assessment as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), DAR biologists and education specialists, and a coral specialist from the Kewalo Marine Laboratory. The purpose of the Team, as described in the Rapid Response Contingency Plan, is to review incoming data regarding the disease outbreak, communicate the event to the public, and evaluate management options. Thus far, the team has prioritized projects that will identify environmental drivers for the disease, evaluate potential management strategies, and launched a website where they will continue to post the latest information about the response. The black band disease outbreak is ongoing and no recovery can be reported as of yet.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and key recommendations include:

    • A plan facilitates a coordinated response. The existence of the Rapid Response Contingency Plan enabled DAR and its partners to respond to the black band coral disease in an organized manner. Some diseases move quickly and can cover large areas, so it is good to be prepared and to know what resources are available to respond to these events.
summer camp about coral health

DAR staff teaching a local summer camp about coral health. © Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources

  • Community involvement is key. The citizen science network Eyes of the Reef is able to recognize coral disease outbreaks more quickly than if DAR staff had been working alone. In this case, community members expanded the capacity of managers to monitor for coral disease disturbances and will play a key role in the reef’s recovery.
  • Communication is critical when responding to this type of disturbance. Having a communication plan or involving a communication expert from the beginning would have aided the team in informing all partners and the community on Kauaʻi of what was known about the coral disease and about the research being done.
  • Contingency funding continues to be a substantial barrier. It is difficult because you cannot predict when, where, and how much funding will be needed for a disease event. A finance plan needs to be created that will allow funds to be isolated specifically for coral disease, bleaching, and COTS disturbances.
  • Partnerships are essential. Investigating a coral disease takes a multi-disciplinary team of scientists, managers, NGOs, communication experts, community leaders, private sector participants, etc. Collaboration can allow more resources to be leveraged in a timely and efficient way during a coral disease disturbance. DAR is building on this lesson by establishing the first global learning exchange of managers who respond to these types of coral reef impacts at the September 2014 U.S Coral Reef Task Force Meeting.

 

Funding Summary
Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) and Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR)The School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST)University of Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB)US Geological Survey (USGS)
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (NOAA-CRED)Several additional community partners also contributed resources and supplies

Lead Organizations (Management Response Team Members)
Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources
University of Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine BiologyNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Coral Reef Ecosystem Division
The Environmental Protection Agency, Pacific Island Region
U.S. Geological Survey Wildlife Health Center
University of Hawaiʻi Kewalo Marine Laboratory
University of Hawaiʻi Department of Microbiology

Partners
Bubbles Below
Eyes of the Reef
Hanalei Watershed Hui
Kauaʻi Community College
Seasport Divers
Waipa Foundation

Resources
Reef Response: Black Band Coral Disease On Kauaʻi
Eyes of the Reef Network
Reefology 101, Coral Health and Ecology Forum
Hawaii Coral Reef Strategy, State of Hawaii (pdf)

Written by: Anne Rosinski, Marine Resource Specialist, Division of Aquatic Resources, Hawaiʻi Department of Land & Natural Resources
Makaʻala Kaʻaumoana, Hanalei Watershed Hui

This case study was adapted from: Cullman, G. (ed.) 2014. Resilience Sourcebook: Case studies of social-ecological resilience in island systems. Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY.

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Biogeography And Change Among Regional Coral Communities Across The Western Indian Ocean

Following the major 1998 coral bleaching event between 2004 and 2011, 291 coral sites from 11 Western Indian Ocean (WIO) countries were surveyed to evaluate regional biogeographic patterns of coral communities along latitudinal gradients and in relation to biogeography and fisheries management. Coral reef abundance, biodiversity, and susceptibility to bleaching were assessed during that period to develop an extensive database on coral reef communities and researchers aimed to evaluate possible impacts such as fishing and fishing closures on reef patterns and status. Patterns show that coral communities are influenced by large-scale interactions between biogeographic factors and temperature abnormalities but not so much by fisheries management. All coral reefs in the WIO are experiencing climate change and coral bleaching since the early 1980s, but at variable rates, timing and scale depending on the geography. The region was characterized by a complexity of a large number of significant interactions among variables tested. The northern Mozambique Channel demonstrated the strongest signs of resilience to climate disturbances.

Author: McClanahan, T.R., M. Atewberhan, E.S. Darling, N.A.J. Graham, and N.A. Muthiga
Year: 2014
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PLoS ONE 9(4): e93385. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0093385

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Coral Reefs On The Edge? Carbon Chemistry On Inshore Reefs Of The Great Barrier Reef

This study presents broad-scale carbon chemistry data from Great Barrier Reef (GBR) inshore coral reefs to test for regional and season differences between inorganic carbon system parameters in coastal waters. Spatial and temporal variations in sea surface carbon dioxide concentrations on a large-scale were examined to better understand the carbon cycle for predicting future increases in CO2. Data was collected from a large latitudinal range six times over a two-year period at 14 nearshore fringing reefs at islands in the GBR that experience terrestrial runoff. Carbon chemistry of inshore reefs was compared from smaller sample sets from mid- and outer-shelf reefs and historical data 18 and 30 years ago. Water samples were taken to analyze various parameters for oceanographic and water quality that serve as proxies for total alkalinity (TA) and dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC). Overall it was found that regional variability in carbon system parameters is relatively small; of variation in inshore reefs, the largest contributor was seasonal variation. Inshore reefs are subjected to elevated levels of partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) as well as decreased light, increased sedimentation and higher nutrient levels compared to offshore reefs. The study found that the rate of increase of pCO2 in coral reef waters is increasing faster than in the atmosphere, likely due to other human-caused impacts on water quality, with higher values during the wet seasons. Thermodynamic effects contributed to higher aragonite saturation on inshore reefs and lower pCO2 than on offshore reefs, with land-based runoff contributing. The authors conclude that inshore GBR reefs could be more vulnerable to ocean acidification compared with offshore reefs.

Author: Uthicke, S., M. Furnas, and C. Lonborg
Year: 2014
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PLoS ONE 9(10): e109092. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0109092

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Community Change and Evidence For Variable Warm-Water Temperature Adaptation Of Corals In Northern Male Atoll, Maldives

This study is a descriptive analysis of coral reef communities in North Male, Maldives seven years after the major 1998 coral bleaching event with the goal of evaluating ongoing changes and ability for adaptation. The study looked at coral community composition, recruitment community, evidence for recovery and responses to corals to a subsequent thermal anomaly in 2005. Eleven shallow reef areas consisting of hard calcium carbonate were assessed using benthic field measurements and bleaching surveys. Maldivian coral recovery showed considerable spatial and taxonomic variability, with dominant taxa characterized by stress tolerance and several previously common taxa now still quite rare. Compared to other Indian Ocean islands, the Maldivian coral response was considerably more variable and complicated. The authors conclude that natural selective processes are in progress with responses showing potential for adaptation.

Author: McClanahan, T.R. and N.A. Muthiga
Year: 2014
View Abstract
Email for the full article: resilience@tnc.org

Marine Pollution Bulletin 80(1-2): 107-113

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Persistence and Change in Community Composition of Reef Corals through Present, Past and Future Climates

This study looked at long-term data from fossil and modern coral reefs to test for variation among coral genera over time, both in rates and directions of change in abundance. Data was synthesized from seven extant reefs, creating 78 trajectories of changing coral cover by genus in the Caribbean and 153 trajectories in the Indo-Pacific. Fossil records from 70 localities from late Miocene to late Pleistocene were used to understand the temporal nature of changes affecting current coral reef communities. A model was developed to evaluate potential coral reef composition of the future under increased thermal stress predicted by climate change. The model suggested that coral mortality and adult coral growth were the most important ecological indicators of coral persistence; thermal tolerance became increasingly important when looking at severe climate change. Overall, corals most likely to persist in future climate scenarios are characterized by rapid growth and moderate mortality but changes in the genera of coral composition in the future are likely to occur.

Author: Edmunds, P.J., M. Adjeroud, M.L. Baskett, I.B. Baums, A.F. Budd, et al.
Year: 2014
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PLoS ONE 9(10): e107525. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0107525

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Coral reefs work as nature’s sea walls – It pays to look after them

A group of researchers found that intact coral reefs reduce wave energy by 97% and wave height by 84%. The study, published recently in the journal Nature Communications found that the risk reduction provided by reefs is relevant to some 200 million people worldwide.

At a time when towns, cities and countries are making major investments in climate and weather-related hazard protection, the authors found that coral reef protection makes economic, ecological and practical, risk-reduction sense when compared with artificial solutions such as seawalls.

To dive deeper:

Read a summary of the article and download the full paper. Also, read co-author Mike Beck’s summary of the study and explanation of how implementing better coral reef management and restoration as part of storm risk reduction has become a new field of science and practical application.

Read why Coral Reefs Soften Ocean’s Fury for Millions of Coastal Dwellers and how economics, location, restoration and threat of coral bleaching may all effect healthy reefs and the 200 million people worldwide that rely on them.

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Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012, Executive Summary

Since the early 1980s Caribbean coral reefs have suffered massive losses of corals. Impacts from human population growth, overfishing, coastal pollution, global warming and invasive species have resulted in decrease of coral populations, increases of seaweeds, outbreaks of coral bleaching and disease, and failure of corals to recover from natural disturbances. This study analyses the status and trends of reef communities throughout the wider Caribbean. Metadata on the nature of the reef environment, depth and history of human population growth, fishing, hurricanes, coral bleaching and disease was compiled and analyzed. In some cases, biological information for coral and macroalgal cover, abundance of grazing sea urchin Diadema antillarum, and biomass of fishes such as grazing parrotfish was also obtained. Results imply that the three best predictors of the decline in Caribbean coral cover over the past 30 or more years are: (a) outbreaks of Acropora and Diadema diseases (1970s and early 1980s); (b) overpopulation, including increase in tourism; and (c) overfishing of herbivores, particularly parrotfish. Coastal pollution is also significant and increasingly warming seas is also a threat but so far, extreme heating events have had only localized effects.

In summary, the degradation of Caribbean reefs has occurred in three distinct phases: (1) Massive losses of Acropora (mid-1970s to early 1980s) due to White Band Disease; (2) Increase in macroalgal cover and decrease in coral cover following the mass mortality of Diadema (1983) and (3) Continuation of the patterns established in Phase 2 worsened by more overfishing, coastal pollution, tourism, and extreme warming events. Four major recommendations for management emerge from this report:

  1. Adopt conservation and fisheries management strategies to restore parrotfish populations;
  2. Simplify and standardize monitoring of Caribbean reefs and make the results available on an annual basis;
  3. Foster communication and exchange of information;
  4. Develop and implement adaptive legislation and regulations to ensure that threats to coral reefs are systematically addressed.

Author: Jackson, J.B.C.
Year: 2014
View Executive Summary
View Full Report

Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

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