Here is a word from our partners at Reef Explorer Fiji, Ltd. who are doing amazing work to replenish and maintain reefs along Fiji’s Coral Coast.
Coral reef ecosystems and the diversity and abundance of animals and plants they support have been an integral part of the way of life and survival of island communities since time immemorial. Though they cover only around one tenth of one percent of the surface area of the ocean, coral reefs are jewels of the tropical seas that sustain more than 25 percent of all known marine species. Globally, coral reefs contribute over US$375 billion each year in ecosystem services.
The coral reef ecosystem encompassed by the Fiji Islands is one of the most extensive in the world. Fiji’s coral reefs hold great cultural significance to indigenous Fijians and are heavily relied upon by much of the population for subsistence fishing, coastal protection, and income generation. Known by many divers as the “soft coral capital of the world,” Fiji’s reefs are diverse treasure chests of life that attract hundreds of thousands of tourists from around the world each year, supporting an industry that is Fiji’s largest employer and foreign exchange earner.
However, as is the case with many coral reefs, all is not well below the turquoise waters of our island paradise. In many areas, the vibrant coral reefs and bountiful harvests of fish and other marine life they once provided are slowly disappearing. Some reef areas where coral and fish communities once thrived are now barren frameworks of dead coral, and others have degraded further into jungles of fleshy seaweed as stress from local and global impacts mount on Fiji’s reef system.
Reefs along what is affectionately known as the Coral Coast of Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest island, have for several decades been damaged by coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, intense wave action from storms, fishing and tourism activities, soil erosion, and more recently from coral bleaching events associated with abnormally warm sea water temperatures and periods of intense sunlight resulting from global climate change. Overharvesting of herbivorous (plant-eating) fish exacerbates the problem by allowing algae and seaweeds to quickly overgrow reef areas and prevent coral communities from being able to recover from damage. Now, many of these reefs are overgrown with seaweeds. With little living coral cover, the reef structure begins to erode and breaks away. Today, the reef is no longer as healthy as it once was and the size of fish being caught has significantly decreased. Fiji’s glorious Coral Coast reefs are dying.
The degradation of near-shore reefs along the Coral Coast is neither a natural phenomenon nor a trivial matter. Human impacts on these reefs have exceeded sustainable levels and are having dire consequences on the food security and livelihood opportunities of future generations of Fijians.
A recent economic valuation of the reefs adjacent to the Korolevu-i-wai district, the traditional fishing ground of the Vanua Davutukia, found that while degraded, the roughly nine-square kilometer fishing ground still provides ecosystem services to the coastal villages, settlements and tourism developments valued at over US$12 million per year. This reef, which is part of the cultural identity of the Vanua Davutukia, was once much healthier and provided much more food security to the Vanua Davutukia—it must be saved.
Fijians are taking action to protect their coral reefs. To help revive fish stocks and reef health, many communities of customary fishing rights owners have used traditional protocols to establish no-take marine protected areas (MPAs), or tabu as they are known in Fijian, in their fishing grounds. In areas where fishing has been restricted for many years, communities of corals and fish have a chance to recover and the results can be quite astonishing.
Coral restoration is also a crucial part of the revitalization efforts. Corals are a keystone species to the reef ecosystem, providing essential habitat and 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. Areas of the reef that lack living corals despite being suitable for coral growth can be restored by transplanting propagated coral colonies and giving the coral community a helping hand in getting reestablished.
“Coral restoration activities conducted by Reef Explorer aim to enhance community-based marine management efforts on the Coral Coast,” says Reef Explorer director Victor Bonito. He adds that these projects “are part of a larger effort to restore and conserve local marine resources and enhance local fisheries and food security. While village youth and elders are trained and assisted with coral restoration efforts in their fishing ground, they improve their knowledge about corals and reef ecosystems. Ultimately, the project contributes to the sustainable use and preservation of marine resources for generations to come.”
Through the propagation and transplantation of a variety of selected coral species onto the reef,coral restoration can play an important role in the recovery of coral communities necessary to enhance fish stocks and ecosystem resilience. Coral fragments are harvested as loose pieces or broken from selected donor colonies, and then secured and grown out for six to 12 months. Once larger and more likely to survive, propagated corals are transplanted back to reef areas that need a helping hand in getting coral communities reestablished. Watch the video below to see Victor and his team establish the coral nursery in Namada Village earlier this fall.
With generous support from Biotherm Water Lovers, the Sylvia Earle Alliance / Mission Blue is backing ongoing community-based conservation efforts along the Coral Coast while assisting Reef Explorer to further develop coral restoration efforts on Korolevu-i-wai reefs, engaging local village youth to propagate thousands of new coral colonies and transplant them at suitable restoration sites in their traditional fishing grounds. During the project, the selected genotypes and species of corals being propagated and transplanted at restoration sites has been expanded along with the types of sites where restoration activities are conducted. Reef Explorer is also scaling up testing of more cost-effective, glue-free propagation techniques.
With the assistance of village youth groups, coral nurseries containing over 1,200 corals each have already been established in four Korolevu-i-wai MPAs and one fished location with a total of 7,500 new coral colonies currently propagated in the nurseries. This recent effort has also vastly expanded the species of corals that have been propagated with more than 30 species in 12 genera in the nureseries. Learn more about the project’s history and progress at reefresilience.org.
Coral restoration work is a strong reminder that the future of our coral reefs is literally in our hands. Vinaka vaka levu and thank you very much for helping to ensure that Fiji’s glorious coral reefs continue to provide for future generations as they have for time immemorial. Learn more about Reef Explorer Fiji, Ltd. on their Facebook page.
Biotherm is a foundational supporter of Mission Blue. Since 2012, Biotherm Water Lovers has raised over 350,000 Euros from limited editions of its most popular skincare products and charitable campaigns to support Mission Blue’s Hope Spots initiative through ocean conservation projects.