on the Pacific environment:
PACIFIC REEFS IN DANGER
CORAL REEFS: Susana Bulewa, Rekha Ranjini and Shital Ram report on
the importance of coral conservation.
CORAL REEFS have often been described as the rainforests of the sea.
The reefs are home to various plants and marine life and have been a
vital resource for centuries for those that depend on the sea for survival.
Recently, this life-giving source has been facing demise worldwide as
a result of various environmental problems, most of which are caused by
mans inability to manage nature properly and efficiently.
In Fiji, damage to the reefs have been caused by destructive fishing
practices like the use of dynamite, excessive harvesting of coral for
sale, damage to reefs by careless divers and a dramatic increase in coral
bleaching. Not only in Fiji. Mass bleaching is also happening in French
Polynesia and the Cook Islands. Coral bleaching occurs when coral changes
from its usual brownish colour to white.
Dr Nick Dulvy, assistant researcher from the University of Newcastle
who is currently with USPs Marine Studies programme, said that in
Fiji, the bleaching was widespread from Lau to the Yasawa Group and northern
Vanua Levu. He said at least 50 per cent of the reefs around Beqa had
been affected by coral bleaching, with at least five per cent being completely
Global warming: Coral bleaching is caused by an increase in sea
temperatures around the world which could be blamed on global warning.
From late February to March, the South Central Pacific experienced high
sea water temperature. According to Professor Robin South of the International
Ocean Institute Operational Centre for the South Pacific, the first sight
of bleaching was reported in late February. There were reports of coral
bleaching at Beqa Lagoon, the great Astralabe Lagoon and Somosomo Strait,
as well as on reefs around Suva and Levuka. The temperature around
these parts dontgo beyond 20 degrees Celcius maximum - something
which coral can tolerate.
But around February and March this year, there was something like
a hot spot over Fiji and the water temperatures rose to about 30 degrees,
said Milika Sobey, the coral reef monitoring training coordinator. This
view is shared by Greenpeace Pacific.
According to a report prepared for Greenpeace by Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg,
from the University of Sydney, sea temperatures in the tropics have increased
by one degree Celsius over the past 100 years and are currently rising
by one or two degree Celsius in each country.
The report is titled Climate Change, Coral Bleaching and the Future
of the Worlds Coral Reefs. Environment director Epeli Nasome
has blamed both global warming and other pollutants for this condition.
With global warming, the water around the coral becomes hotter
and this negatively affects the biological activities of coral,
he said. On the effects of the bleaching, Mrs Sobey said the areas surveyed
on reefs around Suva during this time showed that almost 15 per cent of
the coral had algae growing on them which meant that they had died.
Environmental groups, government departments and all those working with
coral have expressed great concern over this problem. Greenpeace says
that damaged reefs were more vulnerable to increased degradation of the
reef ecosystem, therefore, a decrease in fish diversity and abundance.
Greenpeace Pacifics Angie Heffernan said many people in coastal
villages relied on fishing for their income. This kind of destruction
will ultimately result in poor fish catches for local fishermen and affect
Apart from being an important source of fishing, it also plays an important
part in the tourism industry. According to Ms Heffernan, if the coral
reefs are affected, there will be a corresponding drop in the number of
tourists coming to Fiji as there are some spectacular spots for snorkelling
Mr Nasome agreed saying that Beqa Lagoon was listed as one of the top
diving spots in the world. Diver operator Ray Guin of Waidroke Resort
said coral on one half of Beqa lagoon had been dying for the past couple
Theres virtually nothing there,no fish,everything is dead,
said Mr Guin. He added that the diving business had not been significantly
affected at the moment but this was going to happen if more sites were
lost through coral bleaching.
Quick action has been planned to stop the situation getting worse. The
IOI has implemented a strategy which includes aerial surveys will be carried
out, establishment of along term monitoring programme, the training of
commercial dive operators and public awareness activities.
The IOI is one of the several nodes under the Global Coral Reefs Monitoring
Network. Professor South said this global network had been set up to monitor
the health of coral reefs around the around. The aim of the network is
to provide reliable data to support decisions on long term coral reef
management by defining and implementing environmental monitoring and research
The whole purpose is to assist government decision makers on how
to utilise their coastal resources, said Professor South. It
is also to help the fisheries people, the tourism sector, road builders,
agricultural sectors and all those that impact the coast.
For Mr Nasome, the provisions in Fijis Sustainable Development
Bill will be enough to prevent the bleaching is pollution is a cause.
Fines plan: If it is confirmed that pollution is a cause,
then there is a provision in the Bill whereby people can be discouraged
from polluting by having to pay fines that have been increased from $40
to up to $10,000, he said. He added that coral bleaching was new
to Fiji and more research had to be done before legislation.
However, if global bleaching turns out to be behind coral bleaching,
then we will have to work with the Alliance of Small Island States in
order to have Fijis voice heard by the industrialised nations that
emit most of the worlds greenhouse gases, he said.
Greenpeace Pacific advocates the conservation of coral reefs through
a combination of local, regional and international efforts. It is pushing
for the establishment of marine protected areas to help halt further degradation
of coral reefs. The organisation feels that it is vitally important to
ensure the participation of local people in the development and management
of an MPA as they direct interest in maintaining the health of reefs for
their own livelihood.