IS­LANDS IN THE STREAM

Asian Diver (English) - - Man & Sea - Text & images by Luke Gor­don

IN RE­CENT YEARS,

it has be­come in­creas­ingly clear that small is­land com­mu­ni­ties and na­tions are amongst the first global com­mu­ni­ties to be af­fected by the cur­rent chang­ing cli­mate. Small coastal com­mu­ni­ties across the Indo-Pa­cific have, for gen­er­a­tions, re­lied heav­ily upon nat­u­ral re­sources and the tra­di­tional man­age­ment of those re­sources as a suc­cess­ful means of sur­vival on their is­land homes.

This, how­ever, is chang­ing. For coastal com­mu­ni­ties in the Indo-Pa­cific, ma­rine re­source man­age­ment is be­com­ing an ever more crit­i­cal task, with cli­matic changes such as ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion and ris­ing sea sur­face tem­per­a­tures as well as an­thro­pogenic ef­fects such as over­fish­ing and nu­tri­ent load­ing. The fu­ture is un­cer­tain for both ma­rine ecosys­tems and the local hu­man com­mu­ni­ties they sup­port.

IM­PROV­ING THE CHANCES

In re­gards to co­ral reef ecosys­tems and their as­so­ci­ated biomes such as man­grove forests and sea­grass beds, one com­po­nent has been iden­ti­fied by re­searchers that greatly im­proves sur­vival chances in the face of cli­mate change – re­silience.

Research over the last decade has proven that ar­eas with so-called “high re­silience” have a much higher chance of re­cov­ery af­ter bleaching events and other cli­matic stres­sors such as those men­tioned above. To use a real-world ex­am­ple, in 1998 a large and in­cred­i­bly se­vere bleaching event af­fected reef sys­tems across the In­dian Ocean. Lo­ca­tions like the Mal­dives and the Sey­chelles lost more than 90 per­cent of live co­ral cover, a huge per­cent­age.

How­ever, from research con­ducted in the Sey­chelles from 1994 on­wards at 21 co­ral reef sites, it was seen that 12 re­cov­ered close to pre-dis­tur­bance live co­ral states, an en­cour­ag­ing statis­tic (Gra­ham N.A.J. et al. 2015). These 12 reefs all had one thing in com­mon – a high level of re­silience. Nine of these sites, how­ever, went through what is known as a regime shift to an al­gal dom­i­nated sys­tem rather than co­ral, lead­ing to a substantial de­crease in biomass and di­ver­sity – the re­silience of these sys­tems was low.

Small is­land na­tions like Fiji are some of the first to suf­fer the ac­cel­er­at­ing im­pacts of cli­mate change, but com­mu­ni­ties are now com­bin­ing modern, data-driven con­ser­va­tion with tra­di­tional re­source man­age­ment to build re­silient reefs

Coastal com­mu­ni­ties in the Pa­cific rely heav­ily on the oceans' nat­u­ral re­sources

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