The Coral Reef Alliance

Healthy coral reefs are some of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on the planet. Nearly a billion people live near coral reefs, with many relying on reefs for food, coastal protection from storms and erosion, and income from fishing, recreation, and tourism*. At a global scale, coral reefs have enormous intrinsic value as the ocean's richest biodiversity hotspot. In addition, coral reef biodiversity is increasingly becoming a primary source for the biological compounds used to develop new medicines. Yet coral reefs also represent one of the most imperiled biomes on the planet. An estimated 60 percent of the world's reefs are under immediate and direct threat from local activi...
Dec 17, 2015

A Thriving Lagoon

On the northern coast of Honduras, just a few miles west of Tela through lush tropical forests, sits Laguna de los Micos. The Laguna is a treasure trove of biodiversity, surrounded by mangroves and separated from the Caribbean Sea by only a few feet of sand. It’s one of the area’s most important coral reef habitats, and serves as a respite, home and nursery for hundreds of coral reef fish.

 

The Laguna has always been an important area for local communities, providing subsistence and livelihoods. But in recent years, the fishermen weren’t catching as much. Fish populations seemed to disappear.

Laguna de los Micos is part of the Parque Nacional Jeannette Kawas. The area is protected and has a management plan that includes fishing regulations. For example, boats cannot carry more than 600 meters of net, and the mesh size must be at least three inches. In some waterways, you can only fish with hook and line, and spear guns or dynamite are prohibited. The regulations are numerous—but there was never enough money or local participation to enforce them.

This year, CORAL and many of its local partners, helped create a patrol program for the lagoon. The Institutional Committee of Fisheries and Marine Resources in Tela*—a conglomeration of government organizations and local NGOs—provides the resources and manpower. CORAL provides the funding and training. A typical patrol may include a car from PROLANSATE, a boat from DIGEPESCA and field techniques from each organization.

It’s a true example of collaboration, and it works. Fishermen now report seeing mackerel over 30cm in length, and many regularly catch jacks that weigh more than 10 pounds. The fishermen support the patrols and are grateful to have them managed by a local committee. They say it keeps the process honest and transparent.

This collaboration is an exemplary model. It’s proof that great things happen when we work together. Conservation isn’t just about protecting the environment; it’s also about working alongside the communities that rely on that environment. And when governments, communities, and NGOs partner together, environments thrive.

*The Institutional Committee of Fisheries and Marine Resources in Tela comprises the Department of Fisheries, Department of Protected Areas, Municipality, Environmental Department of the Municipality, the Navy, PROLANSATE, AMATELA, and CORAL.

Nov 19, 2015

A Hopeful Future for Bali's Reefs

Coral reefs are a hot topic these days. They’re all over the news—coral bleaching, constructing islands on top of reefs, and sunscreen pollution. Even the Washington Post has been running a series of articles on coral reefs. I’ve worked with corals for more than 10 years and I can’t remember a time when they’ve ever been so mainstream and popular. But here’s the problem: it’s all doom and gloom. All of the news that’s coming out is bad news. Where’s the optimism? Where’s the hope? Where are the success stories?

That’s one of the things I love about CORAL. We know we CAN save coral reefs, and with the right amount of support, we WILL. And that’s why I enjoyed my most recent trip to Bali, Indonesia.

Together, we CAN and we WILL save coral reefs.

Together, we CAN and we WILL save coral reefs.

I strategically aligned my trip so I could attend the first-ever Buleleng Bali Dive Festival, which was held in Pemuteran. Some of you may remember hearing about it at our 2014 Gala, when the Indonesian Minister of Fisheries and Affairs announced the festival for the first time. The festival was a huge success—complete with a parade, traditional ceremony, educational talks, and of course, unforgettable diving.

But, what really hit home on this trip was seeing how motivated and impassioned the local communities are about protecting coral reefs. It was the success stories that really stood out.

Take Nyoman Suastika for example. Nyoman lives in the community of Tulamben, a small fishing village in Bali known for one of the best wreck dives in the world. Divers and dive operators consistently dive in this area, but the increase in tourism was damaging the coral and harming the ecosystem. Dive operators from out of the area accompanied visiting divers, which meant a lot of the benefits of tourism weren’t staying within the community. As a result, the community didn’t have the resources to protect the environment. Nyoman took notice and started talking to his community about the issue. His community had a no-take conservation area, and he attended trainings to learn how to turn it into a formalized Marine Protected Area—a conservation area that is formally recognized and supported by the national government—and to ensure it is effectively managed. With the help of CORAL and our local partners, Nyoman organized his community to take action.

Nyoman is spearheading efforts in Tulamben, Bali to save coral reefs.

Nyoman is spearheading efforts in Tulamben, Bali to save coral reefs.

Together, they established a local group of dive guides called Organisasi Dive Guide Tulamben. Dive operators from outside of Tulamben now call on the local group to lead their trips, instead of sending in guides from outside the area. As a result, more of the tourism fees stay within the community. This enables the community to oversee and manage how their local coral reefs are utilized.

CORAL is helping Nyoman and his community protect and manage the local coral reefs in a variety of ways. This includes:

  • Setting up a voluntary dive fee—this will help the community raise money to support day-to-day management of the local MPA.
  • Developing a management plan that the community fully supports.
  • Assisting in advocacy efforts so government officials will help enforce MPA regulations.
  • Aligning them alongside local partners who can support their efforts. For example, Reef Check is helping them setup regular reef monitoring surveys that will track changes to the health of their coral reefs.

Nyoman is an incredibly humble and down-to-earth individual. His motivating driver is simple: his goal is to improve Tulamben’s reefs. He envisions a future where his community understands that conservation is beneficial and leads to a healthy reef and community. He envisions a community that prioritizes sustainable land-use practices. And he envisions an ocean without trash and with an abundant array of fish and wildlife.

There is so much incredible work happening in Bali, and around the world, to protect coral reefs. THIS is the kind of ground-up work that we should see in the news. I hope Nyoman’s story inspires you as much as it inspires me. Together we CAN and we WILL continue to protect coral reefs for generations to come.

Nov 2, 2015

El Nino: Will It Hurt Coral Reefs?

Coral Reefs in Maui
Coral Reefs in Maui

You’ve probably heard about it in the news. You may even remember living through it in the early 80s and 90s. El Niño is here. It’s already impacting the Pacific Ocean and this August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) saw variances in sea surface temperatures near or greater than 2.0 degrees Celsius.

El Niño refers to warming waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Those warmer waters spread to the east, bringing with them a drastic change in weather patterns. Scientists predict that this year’s El Niño is extreme and may last through the spring of 2016.

That means trouble for coral reefs. In fact, NOAA recently announced that “bleaching due to heat stress is expected to impact approximately 38 percent of the world’s coral reefs—and almost 95% of those in U.S. waters.”

When water temperatures grow too warm, corals become stressed and oust the tiny algae that live in their tissues, called zooxanthellae. Corals and zooxanthellae have a mutually beneficial relationship that can be disrupted by changing temperatures. Without zooxanthellae, corals lose an important food source which significantly limits their ability to grow. Zooxanthellae are also responsible for giving corals their brilliant and vibrant colors—without them, when they are banished, corals bleach and turn a skeletal white color.

Coral bleaching isn’t necessarily the same thing as corals dying. Corals can survive bleaching events, but their survival is contingent on the how warm the water gets and how long the warm period lasts. They will, however, have a harder time recovering if they are already struggling or unhealthy. If there’s a back-to-back series of warm water events, and if corals are already stressed from overfishing and pollution, mortality rates can skyrocket. Given the local threats reefs face in many places, we can expect high coral mortality especially if this year’s El Niño is as strong as scientists predict. We’re disappointed to report that we’ve already seen coral bleaching in Hawai‘i and elsewhere in the Pacific.

The warm waters of an El Niño are also associated with an increase in the number of tropical cyclones. These weather events can cause a lot of physical destruction to a reef. If corals bleach, they have a hard time recovering—their growth is curtailed without their partner, zooxanthellae. The combination of increased water temperatures and storm activity can be a “double whammy” for coral reefs.

El Niño is a natural phenomenon and we can’t stop it. When you add an El Niño to an already stressed system its effects are more severe. So what can you do about it? You can reduce your emissions and advocate on behalf of clean energy. When you’re out diving you can report bleached corals to local reef managers or to ReefBase. You can also help the Coral Reef Alliance do what it  does best—unite communities to reduce local threats. If reefs are healthy, with clean water and an abundant amount of fish life, we can expect the corals to come back later. If we combine our efforts across the globe we can help give corals a fighting chance at surviving these environmental changes.

 

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