The team of researchers, which included Drs. Tim McClanahan and Nyawira Muthiga of WCS, found “super reefs” in the waters between northern Madagascar, northern Mozambique, Tanzania, and southern Kenya. Their existence makes them a high priority for future conservation action.
After a 1998 bleaching event off Tanzania’s coast wiped out up to 45 percent of the region’s corals, they recovered rapidly. WCS conservationists monitored these reefs, and continue to protect the corals by training park staff in protected areas. The researchers attribute the reef recovery partly to bans on commercial fishing. Such closures allows the reef fish to thrive, and the fish, in turn, keep the algae population in check. Without enough fish to feed on the algae, it would otherwise smother the corals. Those sites without any specific management measures remain degraded; one site has experienced an explosion of sea urchins—pests that feed on corals.
The scientists also found that the structure of the reefs play a major factor in their resiliency. Tanzania’s reefs are particularly complex and experience unusual variations in current and water temperatures. These factors promote the survival of a higher diversity of coral species, including those that can quickly re-colonize after bleaching.
McClanahan sees the resilience of Northern Tanzania’s reefs as a promising sign. “This gives cause for considerably more optimism that developing countries can effectively manage their reefs in the face of climate change,” he said….