In the next few days world leaders will be gathering in Paris, France for the #COP21 to discuss on climate change and hopeful come up with a new deal to address the climate change challenge. Many agree that we have had enough science and research pointing at climate change not happening in the next few years, but now it is happening and though a bit too late, it’s time to act.
The impacts of climate change are well known and it’s not something to smile about. Among the habitats where climate change has had the most impact is the ocean ecosystem especially the near-shore habitats which have direct benefit to millions of people. Release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases through burning of fossil fuels are causing global warming. Global warming results to increased sea surface temperature that causes coral bleaching in tropical areas where coral reefs occur. Corals thrive near their upper temperature tolerance and therefore any slight increase in temperature breaks down the symbiotic relationship between corals and microalgae and hence bleaching. Coral bleaching affect not only the corals but if it persists and corals die all the biodiversity depending on them for survival will perish.
Bleaching in April 2013 on a permanent quadrant
The Ocean plays a role in reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere but this also comes at a cost further threatening these systems. The ocean absorbs the CO2 from the atmosphere but the increased amount of CO2 in the atmosphere means more is or has to be absorbed than the ocean can take causing ocean acidification.
Coral bleaching and ocean acidification are deteriorating coral reefs conditions all over the world and jeopardizing all ecological and socio-economic values that they provide to millions of people depending on them directly or indirectly. Global warming is also causing rise in sea-level damaging coastal states and people’s livelihoods. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its recent (2013) report had predicted that there will be 26 to 82cm rise in the sea level in the next a hundred years. What does this mean for islands states such as Maldives?
The impacts of climate change and their associated consequences are already being felt both at global, regional and local level and paint a bleak picture to people and livelihoods. We are hopeful that all leaders and nations present at the COP21 meeting will come up with a deal for climate change and a commitment that will reduce carbon emissions. While this is very important, what can we do at a local level? How do we build the ability of both society and ecological system to adapt to climate change as we buy time for recovery of these systems with low carbon emissions?
In a small town in the North coast of Kenya, Watamu, we are working in a small marine protected area to try to understand and build the resilience of the coral reefs and the communities here. Watamu Marine National Park is one of the oldest marine park in the world and was seriously impacted by the 1998 El Nino event that caused up to 80% coral loss, and has experienced slow rates of recovery ever since. There was a minor bleaching event in 2013 which we recorded relatively good recovery. Some coral reefs have been reported to develop tolerance to thermal stress. The good recovery in 2013 could be argued that the corals are adapting to thermal stress but a more weighted argument could be that the thermal stress was not as intense as that one in 1998. Whichever scenario is correct, we are working to have a better understanding on this at a local level.
Scientific predictions are pointing at a stronger El nino event, that might cause bleaching early next year, we are preparing to monitor the bleaching event within the protected area and surrounding areas. With marked quadrats and corals that we used in 2013, we will be going back to the same spots and checking the response of the corals in the event of bleaching. This will give us an understanding of whether these corals are adapting to thermal stress and which sites are more resilient and hence need more protection.
Recovery in October 2013 on a permanent quadrant
We are also working with local reef users and the government agencies to raise awareness on coral reefs and climate change and influence reduction of local stressors. Our overall goal is to ensure everybody understands these threats and come up with appropriate management strategies for continued structural and functional existence of the coral reefs.
Remarking permanent quadrant in October 2015
In a workshop explaining bleaching