Stakeholders plan act to protect coral reefs

by Desy Nurhayati on 2014-01-23

Several NGOs are conducting joint efforts with local communities and government agencies to formulate action plans to recover coral reefs affected by mass bleaching due to global warming.

In a recent workshop on coral bleaching, they discussed the impact of the coral bleaching in 2009 and 2010 and took lessons from the incidents to anticipate possible bleaching in the future by formulating mitigation efforts.

Besides participants from Aceh, Bali and Lombok, representatives from Malaysia and Thailand were also present to exchange ideas and experiences on dealing with coral bleaching. They also discussed how the incidents would affect marine tourism.

“It is predicted that coral bleaching incidents could become more severe and frequent, as seawater temperatures have continued to increase significantly,” said Scott Heron, marine physicist from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch.

Coral bleaching occurs when corals lose their algal symbion, zooxanthellae, due to stressful conditions. The coral tissue becomes transparent, making the corals look bleached. Without the zooxanthellae, the coral will not only lose its color, but also slowly starve to death.

In the drafted action plans, one of the main aspects in anticipating coral bleaching was to improve engagement, communication and coordination between local communities, businesses, NGOs and governments about coral reef management.

“This should also be conducted during bleaching events, by developing and disseminating information about bleaching response plans. Establishing a kind of ‘response committee’ is also needed to quickly take action to recover the bleached corals,” said Naneng Setiasih from Coral Reef Alliance.

Temporary closure of snorkeling and diving sites, or limiting the number of divers at certain locations during bleaching events, might also be needed if the bleaching was severe, she added.

Participants also shared ideas on the importance of enforcing the prevailing regulations, particularly those related to preservation and management of marine parks and fisheries.

Coral bleaching could negatively impact tourism, particularly divers’ satisfaction with reef conditions and marine life. Therefore, dive operators should also be involved in training and capacity building activities on reef management, said Derta Prabuning of Reef Check Foundation Indonesia.

“In Bali and the Gilis, monitoring training for dive operators and snorkel guides on coral bleaching and other management aspects has been conducted,” he said.

To ensure that snorkeling and diving were not damaging coral reefs, developing and implementing codes of conduct and certification programs for divers, dive operators, snorkel guides and tourism businesses was also crucial, he added.

Implementing education and outreach programs to raise awareness for snorkelers and divers was also included in the action plans.

Marine scientists have warned that coral reefs in Indonesia could experience another cycle of bleaching this year after mass bleaching was recorded in several areas around the archipelago in 2009 and 2010.

Studies show that 2010 was not a good year for reefs in Southeast Asia, since there were unusually high or prolonged summer sea temperatures resulting in mass bleaching.

For the first time since 1998, the mass bleaching has affected coral reefs across a wide area of Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. Bleaching has been reported in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, the Maldives and parts of east Africa.

The bleaching has reached an alarming rate, although it was patchy in some areas.

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch Program has stated that the bleaching was very strong and could result in a lot of corals dying. An estimated 16 percent of the world’s reefs were killed during the bleaching in 1997-1998, the worst in 700 years.

In Indonesia, mass bleaching has been recorded in 20 locations, including Aceh and Padang in Sumatra, in the Thousand Islands National Park and Karimun Jawa National Park in Java, in Bali, the Gili Islands in Lombok, as well as in Wakatobi and Tomini Bay in Sulawesi, Maluku and Raja Ampat in West Papua.

Bali has up to 40 percent bleaching at Lipah Bay in Amed, Karangasem regency. Observation in Bali’s Pemuteran in April recorded 40 to 60 percent bleaching on acropora and porites.

Other bleaching events were also reported at Bali’s Menjangan Island and Labuhan Lalang, where some corals experienced bleaching, although less than 15 percent, as well as in Pemuteran at some 20 percent. In Lovina, Tejakula and Tulamben, there was bleaching of some 10 percent of corals.

A survey using the Manta tow method conducted by Reef Check in June in the Gili islands showed bleaching between 10 and 55 percent in the reef flat area, affecting seriotopora, acropora, favia, favites and porites.

Naneng further stated that there was an urgent need for reef managers to reduce all existing threats to coral reefs to ensure they had the best chance of recovering from bleaching events.

“Coral reefs in Indonesia are already under threat from destructive and overfishing, anchoring, coral mining, pollution, sedimentation and reclamation of reefs associated with coastal development. Reefs affected by these stresses have less chance of recovering from coral bleaching,” she said.

“What we can do is to reduce other environmental stressors. Some ongoing programs in Bali and the Gilis have included these aspects,” she added.

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