Wansolwara News

Vol. 5 No. 2
June 2000

Page 7

 

INSIGHT REPORT
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 man’s 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 USP’s 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 dead.

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 don’t’go 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 World’s 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 Pacific’s 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 their livelihood.”

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 or diving.

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 of years.

“There’s 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 strategies.

“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 Fiji’s 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 Fiji’s voice heard by the industrialised nations that emit most of the world’s 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.


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