To fight coral bleaching, Kenya turns to reef nurseries

By WANJOHI KABUKURU Associated Press
WASINI, Kenya (AP) — Just minutes from the Kenyan mainland, the densely forested island of Wasini is one of many starting points for coral reef restoration efforts in the western Indian Ocean. On a rare calm day during the normally turbulent monsoon season, four divers, wearing measuring equipment, shoes and toothbrushes, took turns descending on the seafloor reef restoration site on the channel Shimoni.
“We use coral fragments taken from wild populations to establish nurseries,” explained diver Yatin Patel, before slipping into the turquoise waters. “After they grow up, they are taken to the coral garden.” Patel and his team, part of the REESolution Foundation, clean coral nurseries and measure the size of growing corals, which are supported by plastic pipes and steel nets with a pyramid structure.
The marine area, jointly managed by the foundation and the island community, has planted more than 8,000 corals a year since 2012 and placed around 800 artificial reef structures in the channel in an effort to restore Wasini’s coral gardens. . But the project is threatened by rising costs and a planned fishing port at Shimoni, just 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) on the Kenyan coast.
The United Nations Ocean Conference, which begins Monday in Lisbon, Portugal, is expected to put efforts to protect and restore coral reefs back on the agenda. Small island states and coastal African nations will track access to “blue finance” mechanisms, including a $625 billion coral reef finance program aimed at protecting and restoring efforts as well as protecting communities that depend on the oceans for their livelihood. The European Union’s previous commitments to reef restoration and coral reef insurance will also be discussed.
The threat of declining fish populations due to coral death adds to the woes of East African communities, millions of whom are already facing a worsening food crisis due to prolonged drought in the East and Horn of Africa, as well as the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine. In early March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a dire warning about the threats facing African coastal and island nations and the complete collapse of corals in the western Indian Ocean.
The Wasini Island coral strike is one of many scattered across the western coasts of Africa, after a series of severe coral bleaching events due to warming ocean waters. After a particularly devastating 1998, largely due to the natural weather phenomenon El Nino, huge stretches of coral in the Indian Ocean – from Somalia to South Africa – were badly affected.
Coral bleaching occurs when extreme temperatures and glare from the sun simultaneously trigger corals to remove algae, causing them to bleach. Corals can survive bleaching events, but are under greater stress and cannot effectively support marine life, threatening the populations that depend on them.
Tim McClanahan, senior conservation zoologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, said 1998 was not the first such event – there was one in 1983, and since then there have been three in the past. two decades, in 2005, 2010 and 2016. The prevalence of massive coral bleaching along the western Indian Ocean has worried scientists for decades and intensive studies to understand and map interventions to halt the phenomenon are in progress. Many of these bleaching events are directly linked to climate change, McClanahan said.
The Wasini Coral Restoration Project followed in the footsteps of Nature Seychelles, a non-governmental conservation organization in the Seychelles archipelago which launched the Western Indian Ocean’s first coral replanting exercise in the same year and is continuing more than a decade later. A similar project was undertaken in Tanzania.
But Wasini corals in particular are in poor condition, McClanahan said.
“Parts of Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar are in better condition. We are working to protect these reefs,” he said. He argued that protection programs are much more successful than those aimed at restoring poorly bleached corals.
“We found it expensive and in the long run, a lot of the corals we planted died,” he said of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s coral restoration attempts. “Restoration efforts will not solve this problem on a large scale.”
The Wasini Reef Restoration Project is also threatened with destruction and pollution by plans to build a deep-sea fishing port in Shimoni. The port is one of the key commitments made by the Kenyan government at the first UN ocean summit in Nairobi in 2018 and will be reiterated at the follow-up summit in Lisbon on Monday.
According to the environmental impact assessment report obtained by The Associated Press, the construction of the port will harm corals, fish and other marine organisms due to the massive plumes that will be generated by the dredging.
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