Marine Conservation Society Press Release
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Maldives Reef Recovery From Mass Coral Die-off Encourages International Scientists16th October 2012
Scientists who have been surveying reefs around the Maldives in the Indian Ocean say the level of recovery in recent years has left some reefs with more live coral cover than before a catastrophic bleaching event in 1998.
Biosphere Expeditions, the international conservation non-profit organisation, has sent scientists from the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), the UK’s leading marine charity, and the Maldives Marine Research Centre to the islands to examine previously bleached coral.
Coral bleaching – where corals lose their colour and are left white or ‘bleached’ can lead to weakened and dead corals. Bleaching is thought to be the result of increased water temperature leading to coral ‘stress’.
MCS has been undertaking surveys in the Maldives since 2005, but since 2010 has been collaborating with Biosphere Expeditions who set up a research project on the islands enlisting the expertise of Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Biodiversity Officer, as the project’s lead scientist. This year the focus has been to undertake repeat Reef Check surveys – an internationally accredited method of surveying reefs - at areas first surveyed before and during the bleaching in 1998 that killed most shallow water corals completely.
The project found that contrary to the results recently published from The Great Barrier Reef - which found that coral cover had been reduced by over 50% in the last 27 years - the more isolated, offshore and clean waters of the Maldives appears to offer better conditions for coral recovery.
The Great Barrier Reef report highlighted three main causes of coral death - outbreaks of coral-eating starfish, mass bleaching of corals and major storms. However, the Maldives has been different in terms of the number and severity of impacts.
The Reef Check surveys this September, carried out by volunteers from all over the world, showed that many reefs had recovered to have populations in excess of 60% live coral, and that at one site the coral cover was greater now than the coverage in 1997.
Dr Jean-Luc Solandt said: "Although our surveys aren’t as comprehensive in scale and number as those from the Great Barrier Reef, we have witnessed a promising recovery in the reefs we’ve visited. The number of chronic impacts to the reefs of the Maldives are fewer than those of the Great Barrier Reef and that has probably resulted in this more positive response to the initial bleaching event die-off in the sites we visited in Ari Atoll."
However, Dr Solandt warns conservationists and local managers in the Maldives that they cannot be complacent.
"There is overfishing of large predatory fish and further ocean warming events on the horizon, and some of the reefs nearer to Male’ appear not to have recovered as extensively as those further afield."
Dr Matthias Hammer, Founder and Executive Director of Biosphere Expeditions, says that whatever the state of the Maldives reefs now, it’s the outlook that’s important: "Even though the Maldives reefs are generally in waters of excellent purity from man-made pollutants and are seldom hit by coral-damaging storms or attacks by coral eating starfish, the consistently high sea temperatures (averaging 29 degrees Celsius) around the Maldives could lead to bleaching once again if temperatures reach over 30 degrees for any length of time. Without wanting to spread doom and gloom, the prospects of sea-level rise and ocean acidification have the power to remove the Maldives from the map."
Further surveys will be carried out in 2013 and volunteer divers, who do not need any special skills to help with the research, can find out more at www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives.
MCS Media and Editorial Officer: Clare Fischer 01989 561658
MCS Media and Editorial Assistant: Kate Wilson 01989 561667
MCS Biodiversity Policy Officer: Dr Jean-Luc Solandt 01989 561594
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