Nusa Penida reefs may survive

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The coral reefs in Nusa Penida, an island off the east coast of Bali, are in good condition, experts say, supporting theories that may lead to a new generation of reefs resistant to climate change.

A report released by the Nusa Penida Marine Rapid Assessment Program (MRAP) on Monday revealed that about 60 percent of the coral reefs around Nusa Penida Island have recovered from mass bleaching, a term which refers to whitening due to drastic temperature changes in the sea, caused by climate change in the late 1990’s.

“We found that some whitened coral reefs were able to recover in a matter of months, even weeks,” said Ketut Sarjana Putra, Marine Program Director of Conservation International Indonesia, an NGO that initiated MRAP.

“This confirms the fact that Nusa Penida’s coral reefs have naturally selected to spawn a new generation of reefs, ones that can withstand a larger degree of variation in ambient temperatures.”

Scientists fear that some tropical reefs may be in danger of disappearing due to a drastic change in ocean temperature caused by climate change.

But MRAP’s reports showed that those in Nusa Penida have been found to be thriving under conditions not seen since the late 1990’s.

He said Nusa Penida’s had been able to survive in waters as cold as 16 and as hot as 32 degrees Celsius. Tropical corals do not generally exist in waters below 18 or above 27 degrees Celcius.

It was a somewhat anticipated development since Nusa Penida’s marine environment is close to upwelling currents, an oceanographic phenomenon that brings nutrient-rich waters toward the ocean surface, thus supporting wildlife, Putra said.

It is also not the first report of its kind, as many other islands in Indonesia, such as Komodo, have seen reefs survive under harsher temperatures.

“This report just makes it more certain that Nusa Penida’s reefs, and those around Bali, must be protected,” he said.

“Because this is where the kitchen is. This is where the future of coral reefs is at.”

The report should serve as a warning to the government that it must increase protection in the area, which has suffered destruction from fishermen’s bombs and divers over the years, he said.

He said about 25 percent of Nusa Penida’s reefs have been damaged by human activities, worsened by the already harsh marine environment.

Moreover, the report showed indications of overfishing due to the discovery of new species of fishes but not a sufficient number of them.

“The fact that there are these new species but a low total number shows that we still have fishermen bombing coral reefs to capture the fish who live inside,” he said.

“If this continues, the fish won’t be able to escape the harsh environment, will wither and disappear, which jeopardizes tourism.”

Nusa Penida lies along the southern border of the coral triangle, an area encompassing six countries in Southeast Asia where over 75 percent of the world’s known coral species live.

MRAP is part of an initiative drafted by six countries — Indonesia, The Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands — to identify coral reef areas that need protection from further damage.

Source: Jakarta Post