A total of 11 coral frames were sold during the month of April, with all new frames being deployed into deeper areas of the House Reef (5-13m). We also monitored 167 mature coral frames at the House reef (21% of the site), taking photographs of coral growth and repairing/cleaning the frames as necessary.
With the major El Nino event this year causing unusually warm ocean temperatures, we have been scaling back our Reefscapers operation and postponing the transplantation of many frames until later in the year.
During May we monitored 306 frames, and have been using air lift bags to rescue several frames that had become buried in the sand. Frames in the Channel are suffering from Drupella snails, algal smothering and growth of ‘Sea Pork’. We are continuing to find and remove Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTS) from around the island. The abundance of COTS may be related to the increased sea surface temperatures, so we hope to see numbers declining over the upcoming cooler months.
Kuda Huraa’s coral frames – monitoring completed by end of June is shown in white
During the current season of warm ocean temperatures in the Maldives (April-May), we are delaying the transplantation of new coral frames and plan to resume later in the year. At elevated temperatures, the survival rate of newly-transplanted coral fragments is low. The arrival of the rainy monsoon season means the lagoons will soon become cooler once again, and the natural reef should recover from bleaching and regain their algae (zooxanthellae).
Altogether, 328 frames were monitored during April, mainly at the ‘Moon’, ‘Moon Reef’ and ‘Ying Yang’ sites. Re-transplantation work is also on hold until the reefs recover from coral bleaching. The bleached coral colonies have already been severely stressed, so harvesting coral fragments would add extra stress which would reduce their survival chances even further.
Coral bleaching on the natural house reef is affecting all species down to depths of 25m; this is similar to the conditions observed in 1998, during which bleaching caused 90% mortality of the Maldivian coral reefs, countrywide. We are also seeing a rise in coral diseases such as White Band Syndrome and Black Band Disease, and coral surveys will be a major focus of our work in the coming months. For more information, please see our Coral Disease page and Coral Bleaching updates.
Coral bio-fluorescence photographed on a night snorkel
A huge coral spawning event was witnessed on the southern beaches of Landaa Giraavaru in the morning of the 16 April 2016. Although the team went back in the water on the same night until 22h, no direct coral spawning was further observed.
Fragment Growth Rate Project
Emily’s coral growth project is continuing, to establish the ideal fragment size for coral propagation. Unfortunately, a large number of surviving fragments have bleached and are showing signs of partial mortality. Some fragments, despite their exposed areas showing signs of bleaching, still have the characteristic brown-yellow colour to their undersides; the likely result of less exposure to high light intensities during the warming period.
Weekly measurements are continuing and it is hoped that if temperatures can return to normal, the surviving fragments will recover. It is expected that fragments will show little growth over the final four week measurement period due to the energy investment they will now have to be making towards survival as opposed to growth. Despite this, there will be some promising data with which to base conclusions on the ideal fragment size to use in propagation techniques.
Margaux Hein, a PhD student from the University of James Cook in Queensland (Australia) has recently been studying our coral propagation project at Landaa Giraavaru. The research focused on the environmental impacts of the project, and required multiple transect surveys of our coral frames and the natural reef. Margaux also conducted staff interviews to research the social impacts of coral conservation; she plans to complete and publish her thesis next year.
You may also be interested in our unique Coral Taxonomy Project, looking at the DNA of Maldivian corals for identification and classification.
A Day In Fainu (Raa Atoll)
Our team recently visited the local island of Fainu (Raa Atoll, Maldives) to help community members working for the ‘CoralsBlue’ project, a local marine conservation programme developed through the Island Livelihood Institute [ILI]. The ILI aims to develop socio-economic solutions to promote environmental protection and marine resource sustainability in local Maldivian islands. CoralsBlue aims to replenish coral reefs and coral reef fish populations to support local fisheries in Fainu, and has already deployed 150 coral frames around the island since January 2016.
Two marine conservationists from the New Heaven Reef Conservation Programme (Koh Tao, Thailand) are visiting Fainu for a week, to educate the local community on coral reef ecology and sustainable coral reef restoration. Two of our marine biology team (coral biologist Fanny, and PhD researcher Margaux) also went along for a day, to explain our Reefscapers coral frame project, and conduct a coral frame workshop with CoralsBlue and local school kids.
We also helped local school kids with a massive beach clean, and collected 70 bags of rubbish. Because of the current dramatic bleaching occurring all over the Maldives, the workshop was done with coral skeletons found on the beach.
After the workshop, our team went to explore their coral frames and surrounding reefs. The live coral cover around Fainu is very poor (less than 50%), and mainly composed of massive corals (Porites, Goniastrea, Favia). The only digitate corals found belong to the Pocillopora genus, and some tabular corals are found in deeper waters (around 8m deep). Unfortunately, the bleaching has affected at least 80% of the coral colonies.
In the future, our team will stay in contact with the local community members involved in CoralsBlue. We plan to go back to Fainu in a couple of months to check on the recovery of their frames and to help them run the project. In order to develop sustainable coral reef restoration projects, it is essential for resort marine biologists and local island community stakeholders to share knowledge and experience.
Web links : http://www.corals.blue/ – and – http://www.islands.institute/r-fainu-corals-blue-story/