The Tuvalu Reef Rescue Plan: Why the Urgency
The tipping-point in mean ocean temperatures has begun. The spike showed itself in March and continued through July, https://climatereanalyzer.org/clim/sst_daily/ signaling the end of the era of coral restoration and beginning of the era of rescuing coral genotypes and preventing coral species extinction. Just like we stop planting trees and carrying out reforestation during severe droughts when risk of fire is so high, we must now change strategies with coral reefs.
I discuss this in my recent paper: https://www.mdpi.com/2673-1924/4/1/2/pdf
Only one island nation in our region -- Tuvalu -- has escaped severe bleaching events. Tuvalu has the most amazing branching Acropora coral populations remaining (that I know of) on Funafuti, the main Atoll. This includes km after km of diverse 3-meter high staghorn thickets, huge 3-5 meter wide single colonies of Acropora florida and A. grandis, and other thick branched coral species (which in other areas are a fraction as big). Heat adapted populations of these corals are located in warm shallow lagoons. There are also very large colonies of erect plate-like and knobby Heliopora, the blue corals, and very large tabulate, digitate, and corymbose species.
Tuvalu has perhaps the most intact example of an Acropora intact climax coral community. Located on the fringe of cyclone activity, Tuvalu receives the cooling effects of cyclones without the damage, and this structures the resulting community. Without strong cyclones, slow growing massive coral species, for example, are not as common, having been overtaken by the faster growing Acroporids. As the Atoll has clean oceanic waters, COTS (Crown-of-Thorns Starfish) a toxic coral killing animal, are exceptionally rare, which is good!
But sadly, after many lifetimes of stability, these reefs may be in their last few weeks of life. The massive heat wave now in Kiribati is heading their way, with severe condition 2 bleaching predicted to hit by December. This is particularly sad as these reefs have not been well studied!
We are planning an intervention for Tuvalu, in partnership with a local NGO and Fisheries. The shallow south Funafala lagoon has the most interesting and largest coral colonies in <2m of water, which already experience uncomfortable temperatures in summer, and with almost no coral bleaching or mortality recorded. We are operating on the assumption that these hot pocket reefs could reach temperature extremes of >36C in the coming months, potentially 38C, like we saw for nearshore Florida waters in recent months. We plan to sample as much of this biodiversity as possible and to move it out to a much cooler nursery site in a well-sheltered, sandy area located behind a small island situated between two deep reef passes on the windward side of the atoll. We are raising funds for this emergency effort, and we also plan to film the coral rescue for presentation at COP28 in partnership with the Coral Restoration Consortium group. After Tuvalu is secure, we head back to Fiji as we are implementing these same strategies back home.
GlobalGiving is adding a bonus to every donation on Giving Tuesday November 28. I invite all of you who love the diversity of the coral reef and wish to help the effort in Tuvalu to participate during this 24- hour window, Washington D. C. timezone.
With much gratitude, Austin