(Editor’s note: Conservancy Senior Marine Scientist Alison Green is on an expedition to the Raja Ampat islands in Indonesia — amidst some of the most spectacular and biodiverse coral reef ecosystems in the world. Catch up on all her posts from the expedition.)
In conservation circles, everyone is talking about helping nature adapt to climate change and become more resilient to climate change’s effects. But what does that mean for coral reefs? Part of our expedition here in Raja Ampat is to help discover just that.
As you probably know, coral reefs are seriously threatened by a variety of anthropogenic threats, particularly overexploitation of marine resources, destructive fishing practices and runoff from poor land use practices. But climate change also represents a new and increasing threat to coral reefs and associated ecosystems.
Over half of the world’s reefs have already been lost or are under threat from these activities, with widespread declines in reef health reported from around the world. Urgent action is now required to halt or reverse these threats and declines in coral reef health.
One approach is to manage the reefs for resilience. Resilience is the ability of an ecosystem to absorb shocks and regenerate after natural and human-induced disturbances. For coral reefs, it is the ability of reefs to absorb recurrent disturbances, and rebuild coral communities rather than becoming overgrown by algae. This will be increasingly important in future as disturbances become more frequent and severe with climate change.
So, but what does this have to do with our expedition?
Well, several key factors are critical for maintaining coral reef resilience — predominantly factors that facilitate coral recruitment and survival, including the availability of coral larvae, good water quality, and a stable, consolidated substratum for them to settle on and grow. Recently, the IUCN Working Group on Climate Change and Coral Reefs developed new protocols for monitoring coral reef resilience.
Here in Raja Ampat, our survey team is testing these new protocols by assessing coral reef resilience at each site we visit. This includes measuring coral recruitment, collecting data on coral community structure and composition, looking for coral disease or evidence of coral bleaching, and making observations on other factors that are important for maintaining coral reef resilience.
Sangeeta Mangubhai, who manages the Conservancy’s conservation program in Raja Ampat, is leading the resilience assessment here in Southeast Misool. Here’s what she says about coral resilience here:
Preliminary results suggest that coral reefs in Raja Ampat vary in terms of their resilience potential. Some reefs appear to be very resilient with lots of coral recruits and a high diversity of adult corals, while others appear less resilient and therefore more vulnerable to disturbances. Once the assessment has been completed, we will use this information to identify resilient areas for inclusion in highly protected areas (no-take zones) in the marine protected area.
(Image 1: A resilient reef with high coral cover and diversity. Credit: Andreas Muljadi. Image 2: Sangeeta Mangubhai assessing coral reef resilience. Credit: Erdi Lazuardi.)