Raja Ampat 2012: Checking Up on Reefs

This is the sixth in a multi-part series chronicling the 2012 trip to monitor the health of coral reefs in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. This year, Conservancy scientists are traveling to Raja Ampat alongside colleagues from CI and WWF.

This post was authored by the Conservancy’s Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai (@smangubhai).

I have been assessing the resilience of coral reefs in Raja Ampat since 2009 as part of a larger collaboration with ReefCheck and the Wildlife Conservation Society in Indonesia. Resilience is the ability of an ecosystem to absorb shock and regenerate after natural and human-induced disturbances. For coral reefs, this means being able to recruit new corals and rebuild coral communities so that they can continue functioning, rather than becoming overgrown with algae and becoming less productive.

Managers and conservation practitioners continue to ask me why I bother studying reef resilience. If coral bleaching events are going to become more frequent and severe, how can we stop them from causing massive changes to reefs?

My answer is that even during massive coral bleaching events, there are some corals that survive the heat stress, recover quickly, and recolonize the reefs. Imagine if we could use basic ecological data collected as part of monitoring programs to better predict which reefs might bleach, which ones will survive and which ones will bounce back and recover quickly. If we had this information, wouldn’t we make sure that the reefs that allow for fast coral recovery and reproduction were adequately protected? And wouldn’t we reduce man-made stress as much as possible to give these more resilient reefs a stronger chance of survival? This is why I think understanding reef resilience is important.

During this trip, I am working with Dr. Helen Fox from WWF to gather information on the diversity of coral genera found on different reefs and their relative abundances. Reefs dominated by corals that bleach easily will likely suffer greater damage than those dominated by less-susceptible corals. The information we collect will also complement other monitoring data gathered by our team and will provide a more in-depth understanding of some of the ecological processes that might be operating on different reefs.

There is no information on the condition and health of the Raja Ampat reefs that sit outside marine protected areas, so we’re focusing on those sites this trip. We hope that the information we gather will be used by the Raja Ampat government to help make decisions about how to manage the most biodiverse reefs on this planet.

Learn more about the Conservancy’s involvement in the game-changing Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security.

(First image: An anemone in a healthy reef. First image credit: Gabby Ahmadia. Second image: The author with colleague Gabby Ahmadia. Second image credit: Helen Fox.)

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