In a new article published today in the world’s leading academic journal, Science, Mark Spalding, Senior Marine Scientist for The Nature Conservancy looks at the broad issues surrounding the current situation of coral reefs and highlights points of hope.
“There is growing concern around coral reefs,” said Spalding. “For decades they have had to survive a growing array of human threats and now climate change has added to this. It’s the new threat on the block and it’s a deep worry, but it is too early to proclaim the end of reefs.”
Many corals are showing some degree of adaptive capacity to both warming and to acidification, more than some scientists were expecting. Spalding notes that such adaptive capacity, alongside the natural resilience of reefs can enable them to recover even from quite severe perturbations. For example, most reefs in the British Indian Ocean Territory and the Seychelles, which lost virturally all their coral in 1998 due to warm-water induced coral “bleaching”, showed good recovery within a decade. Read more.
U.S. Virgin Islands Climate Change Ecosystem-Based Adaptation Guidance: Promoting Resilient Coastal and Marine Communities
U.S. Virgin Islands
Coastal and marine communities of the US Virgin Islands (USVI), similar to other locations worldwide, are susceptible to the effects of climate change including increasing hazardous coastal conditions and loss of life-sustaining marine, coastal, and island resources. Climate change is anticipated to add to the stresses of our coastal environment by altering temperature patterns, increasing the likelihood of extreme precipitation events, and accelerating rates of sea level rise. Responding and adapting to such changes requires an understanding of the risks; weighing options for adapting to changing conditions; and instituting a suite of strategies to fund, implement, and measure response actions that have the most benefits to the ecosystems and communities that depend on them.
There is a growing volume of evidence that suggests in some situations, the most successful and cost-effective actions to protect people from the impacts of climate change are to preserve, enhance, and restore natural systems that provide critical protection, or that provide food, water, or work opportunities to local communities. Ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA), or nature-based adaptation to climate change, is a holistic response based on the premise and experience that by protecting, maintaining, and restoring natural ecosystems, we can reduce the scale and scope of impacts to human communities and to the natural systems upon which they depend. Ecosystems are the first line of defense against impacts of climate change and a key aspect of EBA is to design and implement solutions that integrate nature’s infrastructure – mangrove forests, wetlands, coral reefs, and beaches – with human infrastructure and socioeconomic needs.
With support from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Program, The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Caribbean Program led a project with the objective of developing decision-support tools and conservation strategies that will advance the implementation of ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change within the USVI. This initiative draws on stakeholder and expert knowledge of the territory, including understanding of existing development stresses, in order to identify critical socioeconomic and ecosystem vulnerabilities to climate change and to identify feasible options for adaptation.
To support implementation of EBA in the USVI, TNC conducted the following: (a) socioeconomic vulnerability analysis; (b) mangrove migration analysis, and (c) identification of EBA sites. Results from these analyses were presented and discussed with local stakeholder and experts during the USVI Climate Change Ecosystem-based Adaptation Workshop held in June 2013.
Socioeconomic Vulnerability Analysis
A spatial analysis was conducted to examine the socioeconomic vulnerability to climate change for the 336 estates (neighborhoods) within the U.S. Virgin Islands. To assess the socioeconomic vulnerability of communities, TNC used 2010 census information to construct indices for the following variables:
- Social Sensitivity – suite of variables and aggregate view that provide a sense of a communities’ overall sensitivity to storm surge and climate change;
- Adaptive Capacity – represents human and civic resources that are critical components for coping with disasters including literacy, level of education, access to retraining programs, and other factors that determine how flexible individuals may be in adapting to new employment opportunities or shifts in living patterns brought about by climate variability or change
- Exposure – measures how much of a community is impacted by each inundation scenario by calculating the amount and percentage of roads inundated in different scenarios (e.g. 1 m and 2 m sea-level rise).
The total socioeconomic vulnerability was defined as a function of community sensitivity and exposure to a scenario, offset by its adaptive capacity (below). These scenarios effectively highlight the most susceptible places to flooding impacts.
A mangrove migration analysis was done to identify areas in the USVI where mangroves could potentially migrate in response to sea-level rise (SLR). Rising sea levels will inundate mangroves – forcing them to adapt by migrating to higher areas more suitable for survival. It is important for governments to protect potential mangrove migration lands that are favorable to mangrove growing conditions. In this analysis we used a simple rule-based model to identify areas where mangroves could potentially move based on impediments to landward migration and continuity to existing mangroves. Mangrove migration impediments used in this analysis were buildings, roads, slopes greater than or equal to 10%, and elevations greater than or equal to 5 feet. In application, the mangrove migration analysis selected all landward areas that were contiguous to existing mangroves until it reached an abovementioned impediment. The map below shows the results of the mangrove migration, with the current mangrove extent represented in green and highlighting the potential migration zones in red.
Identifying EBA Sites
Finally, sites to implement ecosystem-based adaptation were identified and mapped. When choosing optimal areas to implement EBA, the model considers areas that have high impact (exposure and sensitivity) and low adaptive capacity. The variables chosen to calculate the exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity indices for all estates within the USVI were mapped, scaled, and assigned a category of high, medium, or low based on the statistical distribution of the range of values that were calculated. Estates that rank high in exposure represent a high percentage of potential inundation areas from sea-level rise or other flooding events. Estates that ranked high in sensitivity represent areas that are more likely to experience harm based on characteristics that exacerbate the effect of climate exposure. Estates that are both high in exposure and sensitivity constitute high impact areas and require high levels of adaptive capacity to anticipate, respond to, cope with, and recover from climate impacts. The map below shows estates that were selected based on the modeled high impact scores with low adaptive capacity within the USVI.
USVI Climate Change EBA Workshop
In June 2013, TNC convened the USVI Climate Change Ecosystem-based Adaptation workshop for decision makers, community leaders, researchers, resources managers, and climate change adaptation practitioners to discuss climate change impacts and adaptation as well as demonstrate methods on the use of geographic information systems (GIS) to identify optimal areas for implementing EBA in the USVI based on ecological and socioeconomic criteria.
During the workshop, TNC presented results from the socioeconomic vulnerability analysis, mangrove migration analysis, and the analysis to identify EBA sites. Workshop participants developed a vision for continuing the work of EBA planning for the territory. Using input from workshop participants and applying mapping tools, the ten coastal areas that were most vulnerable to climate change and least likely to respond were identified. These spatial decision tools were used to develop long-term strategies to create environments that allow for resiliency to changes over time.
How Successful has it been?
The US Virgin Islands Climate Change Ecosystem-Based Adaptation Guidance has been a useful tool to educate and inform government agencies of climate change impacts and adaptation opportunities. It has been the bridge for climate change conversations across a change of administration at the USVI governor level. Recently the Guidance document led to funding for coral restoration, an investment in ecosystem based adaptation to increase coral reef resiliency.
Lessons Learned and Recommendations
- Climate change for small islands will become an increasing challenge. Understanding the vulnerabilities of both humans and natural systems has been a critical first step.
- During a change of government administration, this document was a critical communication piece that served to inform the new governor of climate change impacts and adaptation opportunities.
- Sharing this Guidance with a wide audience has been a challenge. The level of understanding of the public of climate change and its impacts in the US Virgin Islands remains low. Therefore the advanced technical nature of the analyses and results are not well adapted for all audiences. Effort should be invested in preparing materials to effectively communicate to your target audience.
This work was funded through a Cooperative Agreement between The Nature Conservancy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Conservation Program.
The Nature Conservancy
The U.S. Virgin Islands BleachWatch Program
U.S. Virgin Islands
In 2005, coral reefs throughout the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean were severely impacted by a mass coral bleaching event triggered by prolonged exposure to above normal water temperatures. The bleaching observed in 2005 caused some direct mortality and was also followed by an increased incidence of disease outbreaks. Multiple studies reported this pathway of bleaching followed by increased incidence of disease, with corals varying in degree of mortality resulting from both stresses. This event caused resource managers to realize a formal plan was needed to better respond to coral bleaching events and communicate with stakeholders.
The U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) BleachWatch Program was developed to assess and monitor coral bleaching primarily from warm water events and document the distribution, severity and impacts of bleaching to reefs and reef communities. The program was developed by adopting and modifying strategies from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Florida’s successful BleachWatch programs.
To guide the development of bleaching response efforts a steering committee was formed. The committee was composed of reef experts from local and federal government resource agencies, non-profit organizations, and academia. The Bleachwatch Program is one of five main components of the US Virgin Islands Reef Resilience Plan (VIRRP), a larger planning effort to conserve coral reefs in the USVI and promote coral reef resilience.
The VI Reef Resilience Plan and steering committee were necessary to generate and document agreed upon protocols between key stakeholders for the Bleachwatch Program. The Plan provides details on the purpose, response activities and triggers, monitoring protocols and community volunteer training. See further details of the plan below:
Assessment and Monitoring
NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch (CRW) Program, provides current reef environmental conditions to identify areas at risk for coral bleaching, and is used to prepare and respond to mass bleaching events. The following CRW products are monitored by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in the USVI to provide a early warning system: Alert Areas, Hot Spots (current thermal stress), Degree Heating Week (DHW), Sea Surface Temperature (SST) and Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly (SSTA). These products are available free to researchers and stakeholders to understand and better manage coral bleaching in the region.
USVI Bleachwatch response activities are directly based on advisories and alert levels received from NOAA along with local temperature data. When a Bleachwatch alert is received from CRW by TNC, volunteers are mobilized. They are the first eyes in the water, reporting basic observations such as presence or absence of bleaching. Volunteers are asked to collect data for any areas they visit and also asked to survey specific sites of interest such as coral nursery outplantings and sites assessed with high resilience. If a more severe event takes place, TNC alerts the steering committee and the scientific community. During this time, volunteers might continue to assist with monitoring, but data is more specific and collected at a finer scale to estimate of the percentage of coral reef affected.
Alerts are issued by NOAA only when a station experiences a change in thermal stress level. Table 1 presents a summary of the advisories/alert levels from NOAA monitored by TNC, definitions of the each levels and the response of the USVI Bleachwatch program to each advisory.
Community Volunteer Training
Individual volunteers from the public are a main component of the USVI Bleachwatch Program and contribute to the assessment of coral bleaching. BleachWatch assessment methods are taught through in-person training sessions (Since 2013, 4 volunteer trainings have been conducted in St. Croix and St. Thomas). Training sessions are 1 hour in length and focus on the identification of corals reef, fishes, and other creatures. Differences between bleaching, disease and mortality are discussed. Each session also includes training on survey methods, materials, methodology and guidelines for submitting data. A USVI Bleachwatch website was developed to communicate with volunteers and the public. Volunteers have the option of submitting reports through an online datasheet, by email or mail.
USVI Bleachwatch Volunteer Survey Methodology
Conduct a 15 minute roving snorkel or dive pausing each 3 minutes to document a “survey station”. At each survey station:
- Take a photo or record data for a 1 m2 surface area of the reef
- Estimate percent coral coverage and percent bleaching of coral
- Report observations of the absence of bleaching
- Record other findings such as number and types of herbivorous fishes, number and types of invertebrates and types of diseases
- Record your findings on the VIRRP BleachWatch Reef Assessment Data Sheet
- Diving or snorkeling equipment
- Underwater clipboard or slate
- Underwater datasheet and pencils
- Coral Watch Bleaching Cards
- Underwater digital camera or video camera – if available (optional)
How Successful Has it Been?
Since the launch of the USVI BleachWatch Program over 35 individuals on St. Croix and St. Thomas have been trained to identify and quantify the severity of bleaching. In 2014 the program protocols were tested for the first time. A Bleachwatch alert was sent out and volunteers were successfully mobilized to survey sites for bleaching. Over 30 reports were received and, fortunately, no bleaching was observed. The secondary response components of the program have been fully tested, as there has not been significant bleaching of corals in the territory since 2005.
The USVI Bleachwatch Program has resulted in increased support and capacity for resource managers to identify and respond to bleaching events. Volunteers are functioning as an early warning system for bleaching events. Managers and the scientific community have a clear plan for assessment and response to bleaching events to inform the proactive management of coral reefs during severe bleaching events.
Lessons Learned and Recommendations
The most important lesson learned is to be mindful that not all volunteers will collect data uniformly. In some instances volunteers are comfortable only sharing whether or not bleaching was observed, which is also important information. It is important to be mindful of volunteers’ time and welcome any level of information that they are willing to share.
Here are some additional recommendations to consider when developing a program:
- Have a point person in place to keep program organized and lead communication with steering committee members and volunteers. During the development of the program it is critical to determine who can serve as point of contact for the program, this requires staff time for coordination. Consider where point of contact responsibilities can be integrated into existing or complementary efforts for example coral reef monitoring efforts.
- Clearly defining benefits, incentives, and creating a feedback loop to the volunteers is important.
- Be flexible and realistic about of the quality of data you hope to receive and the format in which you will receive it from the volunteers – some will fill out the entire form, some will just send an email.
- Provide other alternatives and options for reporting such as a mapping tool to make it easier for people to report the event.
- Group volunteer time effort – consider expanding the topics included in a training to include other issues affecting coral reef health that volunteers are interested in reporting for example; invasive species, grounding damages.
The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy
The University of the Virgin Islands Center for Marine and Environmental Studies
Coral reef restoration is a process by which key habitat-forming species are reestablished in threatened coral ecosystems to help them recover from severe declines. However, alternative possible outcomes may result from out-planting coral fragments individually or in larger aggregations. It has been suggested that out-plants within aggregations might suffer from either negative interactions with neighbors (e.g. competition for space) or may benefit from such interactions (e.g. buffering wave disturbances). Given these possible contrasting outcomes, experiments are required to determine how spatial configuration and density affects the success of out-planted species. This study evaluates whether coral fragments should be out-planted individually or in larger aggregations by experimentally testing how aggregation density influenced initial coral growth over 3 months. The study was conducted on a degraded reef in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, using out-plants of the critically endangered staghorn coral Acropora cervicornis.
Results showed that coral growth declined as a function of aggregation size. In addition, out-plants within larger aggregations had fewer and shorter secondary branches on average. These results indicate horizontal competition for space, suggesting that wide spacing of individuals will maximize the initial growth of out-planted branching corals. Researchers suggest explicit considerations of out-plant spatial arrangement and density in ongoing and future coral reef restoration projects.
Author: Griffin, J. N., E.C. Schrack, K.-A. Lewis, I.B. Baums, N. Soomdat, and B.R. Silliman
Email for the full article: email@example.com
Restoration Ecology. doi: 10.1111/rec.12173
Roughly the size of Florida, Cuba is the most ecologically diverse island in the Caribbean with more than 10,000 endemic plant and animal species. The country’s coral reefs span 1000 sq. miles and represent a third of all reefs in the insular Caribbean. Cuba’s healthy marine ecosystems are crucial for regional coral larvae dispersal and fisheries production that not only benefit the Caribbean region, but also the southeastern United States.
The Nature Conservancy has partnered with Cuban conservation agencies for more than 20 years, providing trainings such as protected area management and planning, GPS and GIS, coral reef monitoring, climate adaptation, and sustainable tourism that otherwise would not be available. During this time, the Conservancy has also mapped coral reefs, sea grasses, and mangrove forests within protected areas – these maps have been used to facilitate monitoring and targeted protection of these high-biodiversity locations. The Conservancy’s commitment to Cuba has made us one of the few organizations that have an excellent active working relationship with conservation agencies in Cuba. The Conservancy supports conservation agencies in Cuba by responding to their existing commitments and training government and NGO staff in skills necessary to advance marine and terrestrial conservation. Through funding from the China Global Conservation Fund and private donors there are currently plans to develop a comprehensive conservation blueprint for the island using new mapping techniques to improve existing data and refine it through expert knowledge. These products will be integrated within an information system to evaluate conservation and development scenarios—providing guidance about habitat protection, natural resource development and mitigation.
Dr. Luis Solórzano, Executive Director of the Caribbean Program, Mr. Raimundo Espinoza, Program Manager for Cuba, and Dr. Steve Schill, Senior Scientist for the Caribbean Program have all played integral roles in advancing collaborations and conservation efforts in Cuba. We asked them a few questions about The Nature Conservancy’s work in the country and here’s what they had to say:
RR: What do you see as the greatest challenges for Cubans working in coral reef conservation?
Mr. Raimundo Espinoza: Cuban conservationists are very passionate, creative, and have high academic standards. However, limitations with everyday technology, such as slow Internet speeds and restrictions on software needed for scientific analysis, are challenges they face on a daily basis. Specifically for coral reefs, Cuban reefs represent over one third of all reefs in the insular Caribbean presenting challenges for monitoring and management of such a vast area. Nonetheless, Cuba has some of the more pristine reef systems in the Caribbean. The lack of massive coastal development and low nutrient and sediment flows onto Cuban reefs provide a hypothesis as to why these systems have been able to maintain their integrity compared to many others degrading systems in the Caribbean.
A potential threat of increased development will likely be a challenge in keeping Cuban coral reef systems healthy. We are currently working with Cuban conservation agencies to identify the best way to achieve coral reef conservation and work towards maximizing the ocean’s benefits to people, while maintaining healthy marine habitats.
RR: What is TNC doing to help address these challenges?
Mr. Raimundo Espinoza: We currently have two major efforts underway. The first is the Cuba Conservation Blueprint, which will be undertaken in collaboration with Cuban conservation agencies. The blueprint will guide efforts to focus conservation in areas of high ecological value, which will help Cuba make informed decisions about future development in ways that will promote sustainable use without sacrificing ecological integrity. In addition, the Conservancy will be building capacity for enhanced coral management and restoration in Cuba by establishing coral nurseries in partnership with the Cuban National Center for Protected Areas at the Elemento Natural Destacado- Sistema Espeleolacuste, a Protected Area within the Ciénega de Zapata ecosystem. We are also providing coral reef managers with current science, best practices, and tools necessary to establish and manage Cuba’s first coral nursery.
RR: What are the expected outcomes of the Cuba Conservation and Development Blueprint?
Dr. Steve Schill: The Cuba Conservation Blueprint will provide an improved and updated spatial database of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine habitats as well as socioeconomic activities throughout Cuba. These features will be consistently mapped at much greater accuracy than previous datasets that are outdated, inaccurate, or mapped at inadequate scales. Through this process, we will identify protection gaps that will ultimately lead to the design of an optimal protected area network that efficiently meets identified conservation goals for terrestrial, freshwater, and marine systems.
This improved network of protected areas will help to preserve ecological function and long-term viability of these systems throughout Cuba. In addition, we will host a series of workshops and meetings to educate, raise awareness and build common consensus for a smart conservation agenda. This agenda will prioritize and guide conservation efforts, helping the government make informed and smarter choices about future development in ways that will promote sustainable use without sacrificing ecological integrity.
RR: How is The Nature Conservancy’s work in Cuba important for conservation efforts in the Caribbean Region?
Dr. Luis Solórzano: Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and one of the top 20 largest islands worldwide and therefore has one of the highest conservation values in the region. The island hosts high levels of endemic species, is important for migrations of birds from North America, and holds a healthy genetic bank of marine species for the region. In addition, Cuba is well preserved due to low-impact agriculture and development and low human population density.
With changes in the U.S.A. – Cuba diplomatic relations, a potential for increased economic activities could fuel changes in land-use in sectors such as agriculture, oil, mining, tourism, and immigration. The Conservancy is working to protect and conserve the Caribbean’s natural resources and so any regional conservation goal and strategy need to include Cuba to secure biological representation and biogeographical connectivity. We will work with Cuban partners to complete the conservation blueprint for the country, and support the design and implementation of a network of effectively managed protected areas. The goal of these efforts is to capture the biological richness of Cuba’s marine and terrestrial ecosystems and engage with different sectors to achieve development goals, while preserving the environmental integrity and the country’s natural richness. Cuba has the potential to become an example of true sustainable development in the 21st century, where human development needs and aspirations are met without eroding the life support systems that maintain us all.
Log on to the Network Forum to ask Mr. Raimundo Espinoza questions or share your comments about marine conservation efforts in Cuba.
The Reef Resilience Network has launched a new and improved online discussion forum!
Now part of the Reef Resilience website, this interactive online community is a place where coral reef managers and practitioners from around the world can connect and share with others to better manage marine resources.
If you work to protect, manage, or promote coral reefs please join the conversation: www.reefresilience.org/network
Alternative stable states and phase shifts of coral- to algae- dominated systems has been observed on Caribbean coral reefs with little or no signs of recovery. To better understand the mechanism by which depletion of herbivores leads to a loss of coral, large parrotfish were excluded from coral nursery habitat in two locations on the Belizean Barrier Reef, Glovers Reef and Carrie Bow Cay. Mimicking the removal of large fish by fishing, the authors used ‘parrotfish deterrents’ (PDs) around coral settlement plates and studied herbivory and macroalgae abundance. At both sites algae abundance was found to reduce coral recruitment. Porites coral failed to recruit at medium levels of algae and was more negatively impacted than Agaricia coral. These finding along with other studies suggest that algal abundance is a proximate driver of coral recruitment and thus recovery of Caribbean coral reefs.
Author: Steneck, R.S., S.N. Arnold, and P.J. Mumby
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Using Coral Restoration and Ecotourism to Increase Local Participation and Financial Benefits of Resource Management Efforts
Korolevu-i-wai District, Baravi, Nadroga/Navosa, Fiji
Fiji’s Coral Coast – Southwestern Viti Levu
The project is being conducted in the Customary Fishing Ground of the Vanua Davutukia, in the Korolevu-i-wai District of Nadroga/Navosa Province, Fiji Islands
Fiji’s coral reef ecosystem is the most extensive in the South Pacific and provides fisheries and tourism opportunities that are primary GDP earners and integral to the well-being, culture, and survival of Fijian communities. The southwest coast of Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest and most populated island, is flanked by the country’s longest fringing reef system and has been affectionately known as the Coral Coast since resort tourism began on its shores in the 1950’s. The wide, shallow lagoons filled with colorful fish and corals just meters beyond the white sandy beaches are the icon that made the Coral Coast famous and over the last 50 years has created a thriving tourism economy that today caters to more than 20% of Fiji’s tourists. Since time immemorial, these reefs have supported the subsistence needs of the indigenous resource owners. However, the spectacular reef ecosystem that became the icon of the Coral Coast has been degraded by the compounded effects of local impacts from high fishing pressure and coastal development along with climate change stressors threatening the backbone of the local economy and the livelihood and food security of coastal villages and settlements.
The Korolevu-i-wai district is located in the heart of the Coral Coast and consists of the four traditional villages of Votua, Vatuolalai, Tagaqe, and Namada amongst which numerous settlements, residential areas, and tourism developments are interspersed. Overall, the district has a resident population of over 2,350 people living in more than 420 households, less than half of which are resource owners in the district. Along its shores lie numerous resorts and guest houses that offer over 450 guest rooms, largely on leased native land. The adjacent reef system is approximately 9km2 in area and is the Customary Fishing Ground of the Vanua Davutukia, the native resource owners of the district. The reef system is relied upon by most families in the district to meet their household food requirements, and is particularly depended upon when tourism arrivals and thus employment opportunities and income are down. In 2000, Fiji’s coral reefs suffered from the first-documented widespread, intensive bleaching event that resulted in extensive coral death. Korolevu-i-wai reefs lost much of their living coral with the shallow, backreef lagoon (where fishing and tourism activities mainly occur) being most severely impacted. Local impacts from overharvesting and other destructive fishing practices along with climate-related stressors have severely degraded the reef ecosystem to the point where coral communities have largely been unable to recover from the 2000 bleaching. The once majestic Korolevu-i-wai reefs now have <10% living coral cover, are largely overgrown with seaweeds, and the average catch for hook and line fishing is less than 200 gm of fish/person/hour.
The Vanua Davutukia of the Korolevu-i-wai district began with marine resource management efforts in 2002 with the support of the University of the South Pacific’s Institute of Applied Sciences (USP-IAS) and Fiji Locally-Managed Marine Areas (FLMMA) program. A simple, district-level resource management plan that identified perceived threats to the resources and mitigating actions to be taken was developed and adopted.
In 2006, the Vanua Davutukia began working closely with Reef Explorer to implement and review their management plans and monitor the success of their activities. A suite of educational, research, and community development activities were undertaken to address priority issues along with extensive management planning activities and reviews of the community’s marine resource management plan in 2007 and again in 2014. The ultimate goal of the management plan is to bolster local incomes and traditions by replenishing and reviving local marine resources – a grassroots approach to rural development and conservation of natural resources. Management plans are developed via participatory techniques and include the establishment of community-based no-take marine protected areas (MPAs), fisheries enforcement and compliance activities, addressing pollution threats, enterprise development, and biological and socioeconomic monitoring for use in adaptive management of the community’s conservation and development activities. Some 6 to 10 years after their establishment, MPAs now have 500% more live coral cover and 50% greater species richness of coral than adjacent fished areas, little to no seaweeds, and 30% more food fish, 50% more species of food fish, and 500% more biomass of food fish than the adjacent fished areas (Technical Report).
The development of small-scale coral cultivation and restoration efforts is one of the activities that Reef Explorer has been assisting district villages with. This initiative began in the village MPAs, largely as an educational and economic tool, but has evolved to become an integral and growing part of village management activities, particularly to engage village youth in marine conservation efforts and marine ecotourism. As corals are a keystone species to the reef ecosystem providing essential habitat and otherwise supporting an amazing diversity of life, the restoration of coral communities is necessary for the recovery and resilience of local fisheries and the conservation of marine resources.
Capitalizing on the success of MPAs in assisting the recovery of coral communities, small coral colonies are propagated from corals located in the MPAs through fragmentation of selected donor colonies or collection of unattached coral fragments. Fragments are then grown out attached to cement, rope, or wire in ‘coral nurseries’ until they are larger and later transplanted back to the reef at restoration sites. Areas of the reef that are lacking in living corals despite otherwise being suitable habitat are selected as restoration sites where propagated corals are transplanted. By assisting areas of the reef to recover in terms of coral cover and species richness, coral restoration can play an important role in the recovery of the coral communities necessary to support fisheries enhancement and recovery in these areas. By providing an attraction that can be developed into an ecotourism opportunity for the local community, coral restoration can also help provide economic opportunities that reinforce the sustainable use and conservation of marine resources.
A grant from the Sylvia Earle Alliance – Mission Blue in 2015 has provided funding to further develop the coral restoration initiative. Cost-effective, glue-free propagation techniques that have been previously trialed at a small scale have been scaled up. With the assistance of village youth groups, coral nurseries containing 1000+ corals have been established in four Korolevu-i-wai MPAs and one fished location with a total of 7500 new coral colonies propagated in the nurseries. Additionally, this recent effort has vastly expanded the species of corals that have been propagated.
Generally, corals of the genus Acropora have been selected for propagation as they are fast growing and contribute greatly to the habitat complexity and overall coral species diversity found on healthy reefs. However, other coral genera (Porites, Montipora, Pocillopora, Echinopora, Merulina, Stylophora, Hydnophora, Psammocora, and Seriatopora) have been propagated as they are dominant genera in the reef community, can be used to help secure and consolidate substrate, and/or are resilient to thermal stress and less affected by crown-of-thorns starfish predation. In 2015/16 during the summer season when seawater temperatures are hot causing annual bleaching events, coral colonies that show tolerance to thermal stress (i.e. don’t bleach when other corals of the same species around them are bleached) will be identified and marked (Technical Report). These corals will be used as donor colonies for propagating new corals in the 2016 season thus helping to increase the abundance and hopefully reproductive success of these thermally-resistant genotypes of corals on the reef. In conjunction with the establishment of the coral nurseries, youth groups are being assisted by Reef Explorer to develop plans and capacity for operating snorkeling tours in their respective MPAs of the coral nurseries and restoration sites.
How Successful Has it Been?
Since 2006, over 14,000 corals consisting of more than 25 species have been propagated and transplanted back to the reef in village MPAs and village youth have received basic training in cost-effective coral propagation techniques, reef ecology and fauna, and integrating this work into guiding snorkeling tours. As the coral restoration work has progressed, a variety of international guests have visited specifically to observe the project and assist with coral transplanting efforts including the Governor of Tokyo, Locally-Managed Marine Area (LMMA) country representatives from all Asia-Pacific member countries, American and Australian Travel agents, study abroad programs from at least 15 U.S.-based universities, and numerous international conservation practitioners and marine educators from around the Caribbean and Pacific. Guest visits have provided thousands of dollars of income to the village fund, village youth, and have been used to further develop coral restoration efforts. Additionally, the propagation technique was adopted by American researchers studying the effects of seaweeds on corals in the district for several years providing further income generating opportunities for the local community through the preparation for and propagation of corals for use in experiments.
The coral restoration program being undertaken by the Vanua Davutukia with support from Reef Explorer serves as a pilot effort for other communities to learn from, and has resulted in improved local marine management capacity and compliance, and ecotourism strategies. These efforts have brought thousands of dollars into the hands of villagers and supported the continuation and expansion of coral planting efforts and capacity building for snorkeling guides. Overall, coral restoration activities have enhanced local marine conservation efforts by:
- Providing economic incentives for conservation;
- Bolstering participation of village youth in marine conservation efforts;
- Improving local knowledge of coral life history and reef ecology through ‘hands-on learning’;
- Further integrating community-based resource management efforts with Fiji’s growing tourism industry; and
- Helping coral communities re-establish to support local fisheries and coral community resilience.
Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Key lessons learned from the coral restoration efforts over the last 10 years include:
- Simple asexual coral propagation methods can be quickly learned and effectively implemented by community members for coral restoration efforts.
- Corals in the genus Acropora, though often utilized in restoration efforts, have been those that are most susceptible to disease and predator damage. Propagating a variety of genera intermixed throughout the nursery helps reduce predation and improves overall success.
- Restoration efforts are much more effective and successful in well-established no-take areas, areas with good water quality conditions, and/or reef areas with healthy herbivore populations.
- Strong local governance and community support and participation are critical to the success of coral reef management and restoration efforts. Involving village youth in the efforts along with community leaders and elders promotes compliance and sustainability of the outcomes.
- Economic incentives foster greater community support for and participation in coral reef management.
- Combining coral restoration with income-generating activities such as snorkeling tours can improve community interest in coral restoration and conservation activities while providing financial support for the effort.
Until 2015, funds to support coral restoration efforts have been sourced and provided by Reef Explorer through the facilitation of associated educational tourism and research programs. In May 2015, the Sylvia Earle Alliance – Mission Blue provided a one-year grant to support the further development of coral restoration activities in the Korolevu-i-wai District, which has substantially aided the continued implementation of the project. Additional funds are being sought to support the implementation of associated research, educational, and ecotourism development activities as well as to engage with youth groups in adjacent districts.
University of the South Pacific, Institute of Applied Sciences (also a co-management partner)
Working to Increase Reef Resilience to Climate Change through Coral Restoration in the Bahamas
The Bahamas is a string of nearly 700 emerald islands and cays in azure waters stretching 100,000 mi2 from the Florida Keys to Hispaniola, home to the Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The Bahamian islands are rich in marine life and replete with coppice, mangrove, pine forests and a wealth of endemic species. Each year millions of visitors flock to these islands’ breathtaking natural beauty, and tourism accounts for around 60% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. The Bahamas are known for their natural resources, which are healthier than many other islands throughout the Caribbean. Though the marine environment plays a critical role in supporting the Bahamanian way of life, many Bahamians are not fully aware of its value.
Coral reef populations in the Bahamas are declining due to both natural and anthropogenic factors. Bahamian marine environments are primarily impacted by fishery and tourism related activities throughout the archipelago. Localized effects of large-scale development have greater impact near those developments. In the Bahamas these developments are concentrated on the islands of New Providence, where the capital city of Nassau is located, and Grand Bahama, where the second city of Freeport is located.
Together with conservation partners, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in the Bahamas is working to improve the conditions of coral reefs through stewardship and management. Efforts have been made to develop a coral reef conservation strategy that focuses on coral reef monitoring and research; recruiting and training Bahamians in coral reef research and restoration methods and conducting marine outreach and education initiatives taking into consideration the effects of climate change. Building the country’s capacity and increasing community awareness of the importance of coral reefs and other marine resources is critical to the long-term sustainability of these resources.
Coral Reef Restoration Strategies
The Blue Project began in 2007 in the waters near New Providence Paradise and Rose Islands, which sit in the center of the Bahamian archipelago near the deep Tongue of the Atlantic Ocean. The Blue Project is designed to fund the development of innovative strategies and practices that help preserve and restore coral reefs.
The Blue Project (now known as the Atlantis Blue Project Foundation) began in 2007 in the waters near New Providence Paradise and Rose Islands, which sit in the center of the Bahamian archipelago near the deep Tongue of the Atlantic Ocean. The project is designed to support the development of innovative strategies and practices that help preserve and restore coral reefs.
In 2011, the Atlantis Blue Project and its partners received permission from local government agencies to begin coral propagation at sites around New Providence Island. The initial permit allowed the establishment of the nursery sites and the collection of damaged coral colonies. Since then, TNC has expanded its scope of work by combining efforts under other projects with the Atlantis Blue Project, to establish coral nurseries throughout the Bahamas. To date, more than 4,000 Acropora fragments nurseries have been established in Southwest New Providence, Paradise Island, and Andros Island. The fragments in the Southwest New Providence nursery were used for outplanting in April 2014. This project follows TNC and partner successes of coral propagation and coral nurseries in the Florida Keys and US Virgin Islands as well as input from consultants who have conducted coral nursery efforts in the country.
In March 2014, Dr. Craig Dahlgren of the Perry Institute for Marine Science and science lead of the Atlantis Blue Project, led a young, vibrant team of researchers and volunteers to help maintain and repair the existing coral propagation units (CPUs) or “coral nurseries” within the lagoon and outdoor aquarium facilities at Atlantis. They also worked to expand the nurseries to other suitable areas on the property. The team built different types of CPUs which included CPUs constructed from monofilament lines and PVC pipes after taking into consideration site selection and environmental factors. Fragments of opportunity (i.e. broken coral fragments of Acropora species) that rest on the sea bottom were collected from areas around Rose Island and stored in one of Atlantis’ outdoor sea water waterfall areas until ready for use. The team installed four single level nurseries containing 17-21 coral fragments in the upper falls area. Also, three, two-level CPUs consisting of up to 32 coral fragments were deployed in another section of the upper Voyager falls area. The original line nurseries in the Atlantis lagoon from near the bridge area were also moved to a nearby section of the lagoon, along a seawall where the water is deeper and the area can be easily closed off to water resource users (i.e. snorkelers, kayakers, etc.). However people will still be able to view corals along the lines. There are now 4 line nurseries with 18 coral fragments per line. In total, the Atlantis nurseries contain over 200 coral fragments.
How Successful has it been?
After one year, just under half of the mangroves planted were still alive and many showed significant growth. While just under 50% survival may not seem like a lot, many of those that died were:
- planted at the high and low tolerance ranges of the species in this system,
- from freshwater systems and planted to a salt water environment, or
- ones whose root systems were compromised when they were dug up and not expected to have high survival.
Lessons Learned and Recommendations
- The plantings with the greatest survival and remarkable growth were those planted as propagules or small “seedlings”. Mangroves from the Atlantis nursery averaged 50% survival, with much of the mortality thought to be from root damage when plants were removed from their plastic pots. Improved handling techniques during plantings may greatly improve these results.
- Surviving mangroves appear to be stabilizing the shoreline of the channel, enhancing natural mangrove recruitment rates, and providing habitat for fish. Prior to the restoration and rehabilitation efforts, the area had no fish. One year later parts of the area are teemed with small snapper, damselfish and needlefish, barracuda and even bonefish! Further monitoring will continue to document changes in mangrove and fish communities as part of this project.
Each partner is funded directly from the Atlantis Blue Project Foundation and The Nature Conservancy coordinates activities, including logistics, communication and reporting. Formerly: Kerzner Marine Foundation and currently: the Atlantis Blue Project.
The Nature Conservancy