We are preparing ourselves for the next phase of our Reefs project, this time using even more innovative ideas for an attempt at the restoration of our coral reefs. More updates will be posted as progress is made. For now, however, we took some time to remind ourselves of what is killing the reefs that are so critical to the whole Mauritian economy.
Mauritius is globally pictured as a sea paradise, with the blue lagoons and renowned sand. Now let us pause this beautiful scenery for a while and imagine the eradication of lagoons- an island robbed of its corals, beautiful beaches, and with the tourism sector on its knees. This is what awaits us if we do not finally decide to face the reality, that of our dying corals.
Coral reefs are exceptionally complex underwater ecosystems formed by colonies of tiny marine creatures. Usually found in shallow, tropical waters, they act as protectors for vulnerable coastal communities against the damaging effects of storms and cyclones, but paradoxically, they are particularly sensitive to the effects of climate change and industry. Those huge and picturesque coral barriers act as an armor for the beaches, a breeder for underwater life, and an income earner for islanders. However, human actions and environmental stress factors like high-temperatures, ultra-violet radiation and weather systems are taking the toll on our reefs. In fact, globally, about 19 percent of the world’s reefs have died due to overfishing of algae-eating fishes, pollution and temperature changes, and another 15 percent are expected to die in the following 15 years.
Our lagoons are ill, with its immune system: the coral reefs, deeply affected and vulnerable. According to Tim Callahan, the Kenyan- based senior conservationist at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), « Coral reefs are not doing well now in Mauritius because there was a bleaching event in 2009, and then there is heavy fishing and pollution in some places. » As per the conclusion of the WCS, which recently released the world’s first map, rating the exposure of coral reefs to stress factors, long term prospects for the reefs around Mauritius are good, that is, if they are properly managed and protected.
In line with this, the importance of the presence of coral farms emerge. A coral farming project initiated in 2011 by the Mauritius Oceanography Institute (MOI) and supported by the Mauritius Marine Conservation Society (MMCS), is focusing on growing fragments of coral in a dedicated nursery just off the beach at Flic en Flac. This follows the successful growing of corals at Pointe aux Sables, Trou aux Biches, Albion and two sites in the South East Marine Protected Area in Rodrigues. Coral farms like these can very well be used to create sanctuaries for the preservation of biodiversity and propagation of low-risk species to prevent extinction.
Affirming on the coral farming, Meera Koonjul, scientific researcher of the Albion Fisheries Centre, pointed out that this is done by fixing fragments of corals on plastic bottles, which are then attached to a PVC plate. “It is located at the bottom of the sea where the coral will grow naturally,” she said. In the long run, a sanctuary will be created, where the coral will then act as a sort of artificial reef line.
The entire Mauritian lagoon is environmentally sensitive because of the vulnerability of corals, sea-grasses and algae beds and over the recent years, some lagoons have even lost more than 50% to 60% of their live coral envelope. If this alarming rate is not a wakeup call for us and a further driving force for the present coral farms, then we should be prepared for the worse.