Apply to Join

Emergency Response to Massive Coral Bleaching

by Corals for Conservation
Emergency Response to Massive Coral Bleaching
Emergency Response to Massive Coral Bleaching
Emergency Response to Massive Coral Bleaching
Emergency Response to Massive Coral Bleaching
Emergency Response to Massive Coral Bleaching
Emergency Response to Massive Coral Bleaching
Emergency Response to Massive Coral Bleaching
Emergency Response to Massive Coral Bleaching
Emergency Response to Massive Coral Bleaching
Coral Gardeners building a
Coral Gardeners building a 'fish house' with guest

Coral bleaching has hit our Fiji sites. The hot Southern hemisphere summer is coming to an end, but it has taken a toll on our corals.  The ocean water temperature got to 33C (90F) in the nearshore reefs and 30C (87F) on the outer cooler reefs.  Many of the corals became badly stressed and lost their symbiotic algae and turned white, and some of those are now dead or dying, on both nearshore and outer reefs.  However, on the positive side many corals did not bleach at all- they have shown themselves to be bleaching resistant 'super corals'.  This is very encouraging.

Last year we trained 18 coral gardeners, two who are now employed full-time by Plantation Island Resort. These coral gardeners, Sera and Merekelini, were rather horrified by the bleaching, which was their first experience with so many corals dying.  Some of the corals they had established in the nurseries are now badly bleached, and some have died.  But I am thankful that this happened early on in their coral gardening careers, as they now know how important selection for heat tolerance really is!  The girls have been busy collecting newly-killed corals for use in an educational display, rather than having this sadness be for nothing.  And because the super corals are clearly identified now, we are making plans to sample as many of the unbleached corals as possible- to bring  bits of them into the nursery- to replace the dead and bleached corals.  The bleached corals that are still alive will be repanted to cooler water reefs to observe if they recover.

We have invited the resorts from around the Malolo district to send trainees for an emergency training on 13-17 May. Two scientists from the Australian NGO, People for Ocean, will be joining us as volunters and staying on for four months, and Sea Stewardship, a newly registered conservation NGO in Kiribati, who have a 70-foot sailboat that can sleep eleven, has also come on board. The resort has offered their 20-person dorm, plus free meals and boats for the workshop, and so we will be developing a major expansion of the coral work, to quickly collect as many samples from the super corals as possible and to establish them in resorts and communirty sites throughout the Mamanuca Islands.  We are using this bleaching as a warning call to push the coral work to a level yet unseen in the South Pacific.             

In addition to all the activity and stress caused by the bleaching, a team of four from Netherlands TV visited us in the site three days ago to film the bleaching and especially to record the super corals, and their footage includes our coral gardeners and the nurseries, we will be included in a four part series on climate change to be aired in Europe in four languages: Dutch, English, French, and German.  We are becoming a ray of light and hope in all of this darkness- and you are part of that.  

The Fiji work is indeed progressing quickly, with most expenses now covered by the tourism industry, and with additional resorts now coming on board and hiring the university graduates that we have recently trained, expanding this amazing and important coral work.  However, we continue to rely on your donations through GlobalGiving for the vital Kiribati and Tuvalu work, coral reefs in grave trouble there.  Remember that Kiribati suffered the loss of 99% of their corals- the hot water that lasted for just 2-3 months in Fiji in 2018-19, lasted for 5-6 months in Kiribati and for four months in Tuvalu, and the hot water is expected to return to Kiribati in June/July.  In 2014-15 the bleaching lasted for 15 months straight in Kiribati- but even though these are the most impacted coral reefs on the planet, there has been no follow up or monitoring by anyone at all, except for us, meager though it be.  Now with the Sea Stewardship partnership and their large sailboat, we have the potential to visit each of the atolls of Kiribati and Tuvalu for assessment and to create gene bank nurseries in association with the communities. Anything that has survived will be the strongest of the strong. Thus-far we have projects on only two atolls out of the 42 atolls of Kiribati and Tuvalu. We will continue to look for more funding, and we have gotten one small grant in additon to the GG funds, and Tuvalu government has matched our funds there.

So we remain dependent on and greatly thankful to our donors, who keep the project alive, without which we would not have made any of this progress.  Expenses at C4C are low, as no one in or organization is on salary- and there is no overhead.  I am attaching the detailed report on our Kiribati coral nursery, updated from the December 2018 trip.  

In closing, we have just three days left (till 29th April) in a GlobalGiving climate change challenge. If you would consider giving another even small donation to the project, all donations are matched 50% during this period. Plus if we win the challenge (based on numbers of donors, not amount given), we will gain a significant award and will be promoted to the staff of some large companies, and will also appear prominently on the GG website. 

Vinaka vakalevu!   

Bleached corals and super corals in the nursery
Bleached corals and super corals in the nursery
Super corals in the nursery at one year.
Super corals in the nursery at one year.
Bleaching reef, but some corals are not bleached!
Bleaching reef, but some corals are not bleached!
Bleached coral with an unbleached super coral
Bleached coral with an unbleached super coral
Hot water testing site >35C- all but one bleached
Hot water testing site >35C- all but one bleached

Links:


Attachments:
Super Corals moved from hot pockets to cool water
Super Corals moved from hot pockets to cool water

The mass bleaching continues unabated for the Gilbert Island chain, Kiribati, with the deep ocean waters over 35C or 95F since September, and most of the corals will now likely have died.  But the sad thing is that no one has checked- there is no program- there is no plan.  This is a natural disaster hidden below the waves and out of sight.  We hope to do something, but are focusing on saving corals at this time, not on recording dead ones- it is so frustrating- like being a single medic in the midst of a massive battle. 

The Line Islands, also part of Kiribati, experienced a 14-month bleaching in 2015-16, and >95% of their corals died, and we are the only ones working to bring those corals back.  We last travelled there in December, on our fifth trip, and wonderful things are beginning to happen with the nursery work there.  I will report on that work next time, and perhaps some on the Fiji work as well, or maybe write some extra reports. But for this report, I report on something even more important.  

In September, I begin the coral adaptation work on Funafuti Atoll, funded by the government of Tuvalu.  Afterwards, in October, reports of bleaching began to come in.  However, the government budget was all spent, so they could not pay my way back so soon.  In November, funded by you through GlobalGiving, I travelled once more to Tuvalu, to the great surprise of government officials, who willingly provided boats and materials.  The Ministry of Fisheries and the traditional Kapule chiefs sent helpers for training, and it was a alot of fun.  Wonderful lunches were provided by the Ridge to Reef program, while GlobalGiving covered the airfare from Fiji and helped with accommodation costs.  Corals for Conservation, as always, provided the leadership and traing at no cost. 

The coral reefs are indeed badly stressed with hot water, with temperatures of 33C recorded for the main lagoon, but fortunately most corals remained in a state of less severe bleaching, with most only partially bleached. But the bleaching since November has gotten worse, as expected based on reports.  Local capacity has been built. 

The emergency work on Funafuti focused on identifying hot pockets of water in the shallowest parts of the lagoon, and collecting samples of each unbleached coral found there, for re-loaction to cooler water nurseries. 

Our experience on Christmas Island taught us that despite these corals located in the the hot pockets being the most bleaching resistant of all the corals, surviving in temperatures of 37-38 unbleached, the mass bleaching event can bring temperatures over 40C = 104F in the shallows, which is too hot for even the most resistant of the corals to survive.  So the trip was a coral rescue mission.  We were able to secure about 400 genotypes of branching corals in this manner.  

Fortunately there are no Crown of Thorns starfish to worry about on these atolls, only some coral-eating Drupella snails, which can not reach the nursery ropes.

A second objective of the trip was to trial iron treatments- as a way of raising bleaching thresholds, as atoll environments are extremely low in iron, which weakens the corals.  Two sections of reef were treated with slow-release iron chelate. The corals brought in to the nurseries were also treated in an iron chelate solution for an hour, as recommended by aquarium experts as a means of lessening bleaching caused by the stress of moving the corals during a period of warm waters and high uv.  

The government has refilled their coffers and have now promiosed to pay my way back to Tuvalu in March for two weeks of follow up on Funafuti and expanding the nurseries to three additional atolls.  I am eager to get back and to see how the nurseries are faring in the bleaching, and if the iron treatments have helped reduce coral mortality. 

It is obvious that we greatly need traing in these countries for monitoring and coral adaptation programs, as well as a well funded multi-decade coral focused adaptation program.  If these waters were USA or French territories, I can imagine that at the very least, monitoring would be taking place, and the seriousness of the bleaching and mass coral death would be reported.  

But on the positive side, I was on BBC radio last week, and also on ABC TV Australia and Radio Australia- speaking about this work and the seriousness of the bleaching- and all in one week!   I have added the links below. 

The mass bleaching is now predicted to hit Samoa and Fiji by late March and April, and it is frustrating and scary, and I am feeling far too alone.  But please know this: what we are doing is paving the way- proving methods and strategies that will one day benefit the coral reefs everywhere.  I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your assistance. 

Austin

Cooler water nursery filled with super corals
Cooler water nursery filled with super corals
Tuvalu
Tuvalu's first 'super coral' nursery
Big staghorn coral thickets beginning to bleach
Big staghorn coral thickets beginning to bleach
Bright blue colors, a sign of bleaching
Bright blue colors, a sign of bleaching
SEEKING OUT SUPER CORALS
SEEKING OUT SUPER CORALS

Links:

Dear Friends,

Yet another mass coral bleaching emergency has emerged on the equator north of Fiji, and has already hit the Marshall Islands and Kiribati, and is now moving south into Tuvalu.  By February the severe coral bleaching will likely reach PNG, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji, Samoa, and other islands and reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef in Australia as well as man of Indonesia's reefs. 

This is the third major Pacific-wide mass bleachig event in the past four years.  It seems that we have entered new territory- over a tipping point for coral reefs.  An animated graphic of the bleaching forcast can be found at this link.  https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-10-26/great-barrier-reef-likely-hit-by-another-bleaching-this-summer/10428298?fbclid=IwAR39fIKl4IZG84lwbhY2Dt39X5wR20b6GAfT6iiV19nEsaCIzPvs_Zl76Bw&pfmredir=sm 

Despite two severe mass bleaching events back to back, and two proposals I have submitted to begin the coral work on the Great Barrier Reef, the funding needed to assist that area has not yet been found. The donors decided instead to fund 3-D printed artificial reefs, giant fans to cool the waters, cloud brightening, and robots to spread coral larvae around, rather than coral restoration methods proven to work, focusing on protecting and propagating the few bleaching resistant coral survivors.

However we refuse to be discouraged, and in a new development, the Government of Tuvalu recently funded our project.  In September, a new coral nursery was established on Funafuti Atoll, and filled with bleaching resistant corals taken from hot pockets in lagoons and extreme shalow areas of the reef.  Staff from the Fisheries and Environment ministries were trained and the work continues even in my absence.  I have offered to return next month to assist Tuvalu, and I have already purchased tickets to Christmas Island Kiribati to prepare our coral nursery there for the approaching bleaching, and to rescure corals from vulnerable reef flats that we expect might will get far too hot for anything to survive by January. 

We are also trialing a new technque which shows great promise in actually preventing bleaching- treating the corals with Iron Chelate- which helps prevent the formation of toxic oxygen in the cells during the hot water event.  Hopefully the resuts will come in early enough to share the technique to prepare corals on the Great Barrier Reef and Fiji etc for the forcast Februray/March mass bleaching. 

Your donations help make this work possible..... and so we thank you from the bottom of our hearts!   Hopefully we will get the support we need from grants by next year- but in the mean time- it has been YOU who have been so critical in saving the coral reefs. 

Vinaka Vakalevu

Austin presenting at the Cairns meeting
Austin presenting at the Cairns meeting

As you may already know, an estimated half of the corals on the Great Barrier Reef of Australia bleached and died in a double bleachig event in 2015 and 2016.  These corals died when the water got too hot in the Australian summer-  directly tied to global warming.  Some scientists believe that the GBR will be dead by 2050- but we believe otherwise, and based on our work in Kiribati and other places. 

But the reef does need our help to get past this serious hurdle.  The stategy needed for the GBR is exactly the strategy that we are carrying out elsewhere- to identify, protect, and propagate the corals which did not bleach, and the to replant patches of these hot-water adapted, bleaching resistant corals back to the reef so that they can reproduce and send their babies and algal symbionts throighout the wider reef system. 

In February, I applied to the Great Barrier Reef Challenge with our approach, but the application was turned down in favor of projects in cloud brightening to cool the reef, 3D printing of artificual reefs, and installing large fans and artificlal upwelling to cool the reefs. They told me that they were only funding new approahes, not existing (proven) ones!   

In July, the first symposium on the restoration of the GBR was held in Cairns, and the organizers paid my airfare from Fiji so that I could present.   This presentation is now on the internet at  http://www.reefresilience.org/learning-from-reef-restoration-experiences-around-the-world-webcast/   

I also gave an interview for Radio Australia's "Pacific Beat" program.  In my talk and on the radio program, I emphasized that coral gardening can only help save coral reefs to a certain point- that it buys us time- perhaps 80 years or so- but that if CO2 continues to be released into the atmosphere at such high levels, that ocean acidification will become so bad that it will kill the oceans and destroy all of our progress.  Australia and all nations must reduce and evenually eliminate most fossil fuel use- that is the stark reality we face.  

The day after the Cairns conference, I was able to visit Austraia's first coral nursery at Fitzroy Island. Stewart Christie and his team at the Reef Restoration Foundation are doing a wonderful job, only having gotten a permit for the work last November.  A big problem preventing action now is that permits must clear five differenct agencies for approval, and they are restrictive in what they allow.  I was shocked and horrified by the stark reality that no one has been collecting corals on the most heavily impacted reefs in order to protect and propagate them - and so with each passing day more of the bleaching resistant corals that survived the bleaching are being killed off by COTS and snail predators.  With the present rules and regulations of the GBRMP set so strongly into law, it may take years before changes can be made so that our strategy can at last be applied widely to the Great Barrier Reef.

However, we discoverd a way round the permitting process- If we work outside of the marine park, on the 10% of the GBR under indigenous control, and with the permission of these indigenous leaders and directly involving the communities in the work, then we can begin the coral work immediately!   This is wonderful news, as this extreme north area of the reef was among the most horrifically impacted.  Our goal now is to attempt to put the indigenous peoples of Australia in the forefront of saving the Great Barrier Reef.  We are following up with contacts already made at the Cairns meeting and hopefully we will have some work to report by November.

Because we have succeeded in getting a small grant to help with the restoration work on Kiribati, with a three-week trip scheduled for January, it looks like we do have the resources needed to divert our attention to the GBR, at least with a small beginning.... all that is missing now is to identify the appropriate aand interested local partners.  And we will need more resources, and so we have begun seeking funds from other sources. For now this plea on GloblGiving is all that we have. We thank each of our donors for assisting- please do spread this message to all who might support this important work. 

I find that it is interesting that involving the indigenous peoples in this most important work will in fact be fulfilling biblical prophecy:  "The first shall be last and the last shall be first." 

We do this work to help ensure that future generations will inherit a bountiful and beautiful world, where coral reefs contiue to thrive. "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth."  

Blessings and light to you all.

 

 

            

GBR Bleaching and the Torres Strait Islands
GBR Bleaching and the Torres Strait Islands
We were the topic of other
We were the topic of other's talks

Links:

Newly collected corals for the nursery
Newly collected corals for the nursery

Greetings everyone,

I returned last month from the fourth trip over the past two years to Christmas Island, Republic of Kiribati, and am busy writing up the results to post online.  I will share a brief summary here.

The corals in the nursery are mostly doing very well.  The follow-up trip was originally scheduled for July, but Taratau Kiriata, the head of Fisheries for the Line Islands, who has been very helpful in providing the boats and materials, sent me an urgent request for help.  The corals on the original nursery table had grown too big and the table was bending due to the weight and threatening to collapse.  I instructed him how to shore up the table, and that I would make an early trip to begin the outplanting phase of the work- and I was able to get there just two weeks later. A one week trip turned into two weeks when a hurricane hit Fiji the day I supposed to return home, which cancelled the weekly fight.

The bleaching resistant Pocillopora corals in the nursery, which had been trimmed from the very few corals which survived the 14-month bleaching in 2015-16, had grown so big that they were growing together and beginning to compete with each other. We removed 29 colonies, each as big as dinner plates, and planted them about ten meters away onto dead corals which surround the site.  With the new space opened up on the table, we planted new Acropora and Pocillopora corals which we had located on the shallow reef flat at Crystal Beach during our last trip. These are remnants of once very large colonies growing around the edges of the dead corals.

The staghorn corals, all of which became extinct on Christmas Island during the mass bleaching, were re-introduced into the nursery last year in June, trimmed from the few that had survived on Tabuaeran Atoll, and planted to ropes suspended between the two nursery tables. All of these staghorn colonies were found alive and fairly healthy, however, while they had doubled in size, they should have been five to ten times bigger.  On close inspection, we found that each coral had multiple bite marks, having been bitten off multiple times by parrotfish.  We actually saw the parrotfish doing this. So we identified a new nursery site in the inner lagoon at Motutapu island, an area formerly dominated by staghorn corals and with fewer parrotfish, and we constructed a small nursery and moved two of the ten ropes to this new site, to see how they do over the next few months. In July, if the corals are doing better in the new site, we will expand the work there, especially for the vulnerable staghorn corals.

On Christmas Island we also met with the Wildlife department to explain the dire situation of the dead reefs and our restoration work, and they have since put in a request for the establishment of a 500m no-fishing zone around each nursery site, as an exclusion zone, to also protect the bird nesting colonies in each site. In July I will be joined by a UK volunteer working with community processes and we will initiate participatory workshops to help gain community support and understanding for the crisis. 

MORE NEWS: 

In February a one-week training of university students in coral gardening took place, funded by Plantation Island Resort.  Six marine studies students were trained, five from Fiji and one from Papua New Guinea.  A full-time job was created at the resort for one of the trainees.  Two coral nurseries were created to cultivate what is assumed to be bleaching tolerant corals, collected as fragments from larger coral colonies living in thermally stressed shallow waters.  Stress tests of the corals will take place in the hot season January-February, and only those corals which prove to be bleaching resistant will become part of a rehabilitation and adaptation project sponsored by the resort for the Malololailai MPA.  A future report will highlight this activity.

I have been invited to present at the Coral Reef Symposium in Cairns, Australia in July, and they have offered to pay my airfare.  This is a big step, being able to share lessons learned with new coral reef restoration practitioners on the Great Barrier Reef.  On my way there, a stopover in Vanuatu is planned, to save funds while following up with the coral nursery work on Efate and Nguna Islands, as it is time to trim the staghorn corals on the ropes and to teach the communities how to do that and to outplant second generation bleaching resistant corals back to the reef.

A very exciting development is that the Tuvalu Government, funded through the UNDP, has asked for a project proposal to begin coral reef adaptation work there as a paid consult, and if approved that will expand the work, and at no cost to the project.  Ultimately we hope that every government of the region will support the coral adaptation work, using qualified and locally trained coral gardeners, so that the funds needed for this vital work will finally be available.

Things are moving along well and on a shoe-string thanks to local counterparts offering accommodation, local transport, and sometimes help with airfares.   Thanks again for helping make this work possible, at this critical time when other sources of funding are not yet in place.

Vinaka vakalevu!

Austin

Cook Islet Nursery and Restoration Zone
Cook Islet Nursery and Restoration Zone
Coral nursery, two tables with ropes in between
Coral nursery, two tables with ropes in between
Corals growing on ropes
Corals growing on ropes
Crowded corals ready for outplanting
Crowded corals ready for outplanting
Corals planted onto cement
Corals planted onto cement 'cookies' at 11 months
 

About Project Reports

Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.

If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating.

Get Reports via Email

We'll only email you new reports and updates about this project.

Organization Information

Corals for Conservation

Location: Samabula - Fiji
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Project Leader:
Austin Bowden-Kerby
Samabula, Fiji
$42,051 raised of $75,000 goal
 
386 donations
$32,949 to go
Donate Now
lock
Donating through GlobalGiving is safe, secure, and easy with many payment options to choose from. View other ways to donate

Corals for Conservation has earned this recognition on GlobalGiving:
Add Project to Favorites

Help raise money!

Support this important cause by creating a personalized fundraising page.

Start a Fundraiser

Learn more about GlobalGiving

Teenage Science Students
Vetting +
Due Diligence

Snorkeler
Our
Impact

Woman Holding a Gift Card
Give
Gift Cards

Young Girl with a Bicycle
GlobalGiving
Guarantee

Sign up for the GlobalGiving Newsletter

WARNING: Javascript is currently disabled or is not available in your browser. GlobalGiving makes extensive use of Javascript and will not function properly with Javascript disabled. Please enable Javascript and refresh this page.