Naitauba Reef Update - The State of the Reef After Cyclone Winston

Cyclone Winston hit Naitauba almost four months ago - in its aftermath a lot of our time and energy was dedicated to repair the damage it caused to roads, utilities and marine transportation and to provide safe shelter for all the residents on the Island after so many buildings had been damaged by the cyclone.

It is only gradually that we are getting a picture of the impact of the cyclone on the reef. Our most recent outing was offshore from Lion’s Lap, a more remote part of the Island. One major observation that we made so far is that the impact of the hurricane on the reef varies significantly in different sections of the reef.

On many parts of the reef, and in particular, the shallower parts, its force was like its effect on Naitauba's forests, shattering in its power. Some of the shallow patch reefs showed major damaged —large areas of branching coral were reduced to rubble. Coral is brittle, and the strong currents, surges, and wave action of the hurricane broke coral formations. The damage impacted corals ranging from the delicate branching corals on up to large coral heads that were broken off, knocked over, or lifted up by the force of the storm. Many coral heads several feet across are now seen upside down on the lagoon floor or lying on other corals, like upturned tables.

Branching coral reduced to rubble

Massive coral formation over 6 feet in diameter lying on its side

Winston's powerful wave action and surges hit this coral like an underwater earthquake, reducing much of it to rubble. Many of the broken pieces remain alive--we will have to see whether they can survive in this condition.

Fragments of coral broken off by Winston that remained alive so far in a new location

Live coral sprouting new polyps and growing in the midst of a patch of coral rubble left by TC Winston. The new growing tips are brightly-colored due to pigments contained in the new coral tissue. We will be maintaining our efforts for the reef as we watch these signs of re-growth and resilience.

One very large coral head more than seven feet in diameter had been rolled on its side.  Also many coral formations were broken from their bases and lying upside down on the bottom. We saw a massive coral formation over 6 feet in diameter lying on its side, like a giant mushroom. It was very sobering.

But when we went out into the lagoon on the eastern side of the island, the corals in those deeper waters weren't so badly hammered. Perhaps since the east side is accustomed to frequent storms, the impact was less dramatic and visible there. However we did find a coconut palm, complete with its root ball, standing on the bottom in 20-foot deep water next to some coral formations about 100 meters offshore from Adi Da’s original "My House" at Lion's Lap.

Coconut palm, complete with its root ball, standing on the bottom in 20-foot deep water

Another observation is that the fish populations are obviously impacted by the damage to the coral, but we are still seeing good numbers of large fish in the places we’ve gone. The photos below include a school of snub-nosed pompanos. When they swam up closer to check us out, their smooth and effortlessly graceful movement together was a deeply-moving sign of the persistence of life on the reef, even under these new and rapidly-changing condition.

School of snub-nosed pompanos

Relief Support Efforts For Naitauba Affected by Cyclone Winston

The strongest cyclone in recorded history hit Fiji yesterday. The Island of Naitauba has been utterly devastated, crucial structures have been destroyed, but thankfully everyone on the island is safe, there have been no injuries. Communication with Naitauba is limited to satellite phone as power and internet are down. If you would like to help please consider making a donation through the website below. It will help us to assist our friends on Naitauba with their most urgent needs. We will keep updating details about the destruction caused by Winston as we receive more information directly from the island.


March 2015 - El Nino arrives on Naitauba

Over the past five years, we have witnessed and documented a period of almost unbroken re-growth and recovery on Naitauba’s reef. Coral and fish populations have been growing for well over a decade following the severe coral bleaching incidents that damaged much of the reef in 2000 and 2002.

It has seemed that global warming has been somehow miraculously “on hold”, letting us glimpse the richness and extraordinary regenerative capabilities of this living reef system. Still, we have known all along that this fortunate period of benign weather and sea conditions would likely not last forever.

A major change is underway now. Key cycles in Pacific Ocean currents and weather are moving into a new phase. “El Nino” conditions have now been confirmed across the Pacific, and are expected to extend into the Northern Hemisphere summer.

We saw early warning signs back in January, 2014, with a long string of hot sunny days and flat calm seas that heated the surface waters of the lagoon to the point that we began to see coral bleaching in many parts of the inner reef.  

January 2015 - Update on the reef study process

First, we want to begin this update by offering our sincere thanks to everyone who has helped this remarkable process to manifest and grow. The strength of your response has given us the confidence and inspiration to keep moving forward, and your expressions of support and encouragement keep the absolute importance of the entire process always before us.

Since the visit from the University of the South Pacific’s reef team in September, we have been working to integrate what we learned and look ahead toward our next steps. During their visit, Cherie, Lai, and Ben not only carried out their surveys on the reef, they also helped to open up a dialogue about making sure that all Island residents and staff are fully educated and comply with sustainable fishing practices on the reef. This is an essential dimension of our care for the reef now and into the future.

The reef team completes the first phase of their study of Naitauba’s reef

With much-appreciated support from many contributors around the world, the USP team completed an intensive one-week survey visit to Naitauba’s reef in early September. They worked very hard throughout their time and were able to complete the full survey at sites all the way around the Island, encompassing all the many habitats that make up the totality of the reef.

Island residents joined them on their dives inside and outside Naitauba’s reef, opening new vistas and new understanding of the work ahead.

"Preserving a reef" is a vast undertaking, and as we continue to learn from Naitauba's reef and the reef research that is being done globally, we can see that the footprint of humanity on the coral reefs of the world is much deeper than we have recognized.

During this brief intensive visit we took well over 2000 photos, and the team logged pages and pages of data from their observations on their transect survey dives. There is so much to look at and consider from all the data and many photos!