Naitauba’s reef is a complex living system nearly 12 miles in circumference, extending many hundreds of feet into the ocean depths, and millions of years old. And yet, as a living system, it is under threat right now, largely as a result of human activities, and most significantly, over a span of the past few decades.
The vast scale and complexity of the reef make monitoring and understanding it a humbling task, especially as the changes seem to unfold more and more rapidly with each passing year. And yet it is a fundamental part of our care for this beautiful and unique Island.
So we are immensely grateful to have had the opportunity in July 2016 to host innovative marine ecologist and biologist Victor Bonito for a one-week visit to Naitauba to see the reef, assess its condition, identify the factors affecting its health, and give us directions forward.
Victor comes from a rich background of study and learning on the richest and most beautiful coral reefs around the world. After first discovering Fiji and its reefs as a Peace Corps worker, he returned after his graduate work to make Fiji his home base. For the past fifteen years he has worked as a reef consultant on Viti Levu’s Coral Coast.
Over that span of years, Victor has pioneered efforts to develop community-based reef conservation programs on the Coral Coast and has successfully demonstrated the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas in reversing patterns of over-exploitation and decline of coral reef communities. He has been a leader in developing techniques for cultivating corals in nurseries as a means for “hands-on” learning about coral biology and as a means for finding out what makes some corals able to withstand environmental challenges that are fatal to others.
Through Victor’s willingness, expertise, and insights, what came out of this visit was not a consoling report about the pristine state of the reef but a sobering assessment and wakeup call to the fragility of our reef, and the effects of climate change and our local human impact on it.
In that context, we also received some simple and tangible directions for moving forward on Naitauba’s reef—directions that we are beginning to explore as we move ahead into 2017.
Over the coming months, as we continue to explore Naitauba’s reef, we will be following up on the directions that Victor gave us during his visit. And we will be using this website to keep you updated on the changes that we see on the reef, and what we are doing together to help it.
Key practical recommendations from Victor, distilled from conversations during his visit:
- Understand that forces of climate change that threaten the reef cannot be controlled merely at a local level, but do everything possible to take responsibility for effects that are caused or exacerbated by human activities on and around the Island.
- Maintain the “No Fishing” areas on the reef, as these areas ensure that the fish populations, especially herbivores, are sufficient to control algae that can compete with coral on the reef.
- Use sea temperature data loggers at strategic locations around the reef to detect extreme temperature events (that can cause coral bleaching), and track patterns of water temperature that affect the health of corals.
- Help bolster depleted populations of giant clams and sea cucumbers (beche de mer) by finding and aggregating individuals of similar species in safe locations around the reef to improve their chances for successful reproduction.
- Find and remove crown of thorns starfish on the reef to track and control this potentially damaging coral predator.
- To control algal growth on shallow reef areas, reduce excess nutrients entering the reef from storm runoff and waste treatment facilities. Make use of new technologies such as stable isotope analysis to identify the principle source(s), and design improvements to correct these issues.
Check back soon for our next update!
Victor’s depth of knowledge of coral species and their biology allowed him to read the signs of their health and history—and get a better understanding of the reef altogether.
Victor made extensive use of still and video photography, using still images to record close-ups of corals and a Go-Pro camera to capture images of the fish life and scan large areas
At the conclusion of his visit, Victor spoke to Island residents and retreatants about coral reef biology and about his observations on the reef.