Many of the world’s coral reefs — Indonesia’s included — were adversely affected by a massive coral bleaching event that took place in late 2010. The impact of the event varied, killing off a large percentage of corals in some areas while allowing other reefs to escape relatively unscathed.

Fortunately, all that bleaching had a silver lining. It allowed us to study the different reactions and conditions of Indonesia’s reefs during a global event, and it will help scientists elaborate on the principles of reef resilience — or, the factors that allow certain coral reefs to stay healthy in the face of threats. Resilience is a key component of the Conservancy’s marine work, and we’ve shared these principles with thousands all over the globe.

At a coral resilience workshop, held in April with assistance from our Global Marine Team, 20 marine scientists from The Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Reef Check Indonesia, the Coral Alliance, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the University of Melbourne discussed the recent bleaching event. We were able to cross-compare data from the bleaching event with the results of resilience surveys conducted just one year prior.

This workshop focused on Indonesia, where the Conservancy and its partners conducted surveys at numerous sites, including Aceh, Bali, Raja Ampat and Wakatobi National Park. From those surveys, we drew two important new conclusions:

  • First, it looks like a reef’s thermal history plays an important role in its ability to withstand bleaching. Corals that are exposed to high temperature variability might be better-equipped to withstand the threats posed by warmer waters.
  • Second, the relative composition of coral species that are vulnerable and resistant to bleaching is also crucial in determining that reef’s susceptibility to bleaching.

Moving forward, we’ll analyze the wealth of data produced by the recent surveys and incorporate these findings into our resilience principles — principles that are helping scientists around the globe improve protection measures for reefs.

(Image: A diver photographing seagrass, soft and hard corals growing near a mangrove swamp in the coastal waters at Kofiau, Raja Ampat Islands of Indonesia. Image credit: ©2010 Jeff Yonover.)

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