As coral reef degradation becomes everyday news, Phanor Montoya of Corales de Paz travels to remote islands of the south Pacific to check on their coral reefs.
While it may not be a scientific survey to assess the health of coral reefs, an on-the-side job as the marine biologist/snorkel master onboard a small ship expedition cruise from Easter Island to Papua New Guinea provided an important reef survey opportunity for Phanor Montoya-Maya of Corales de Paz. As the Director and Founder of Colombia´s pioneer of diving for coral reef conservation and large-scale coral reef restoration, he turns his travels into self-imposed assignments to address a question that is virtually common to every conservationist and diver – have we lost hope for the future of coral reefs around the world?
One of the first stops on Phanor´s expedition was Ducie Atoll, one of the four islands of the Pitcairn Group. Live coral cover at the site visited was <50% and mild bleaching was observed (<25%). April 9 2019. Depth 5 – 10 m.
Motu Vahaga in French Polynesia was next. Group. Live coral cover at the site visited was >75% and few to none bleaching was observed (<10%). April 14 2019. Depth 5 – 10 m.
“There has been an unprecedented record of recent news on coral mortality, particularly in the last three years where breaking record seawater temperatures have caused frequent and massive coral bleaching events in the Great Barrier Reef, Fiji, and other Pacific islands,” he says. “There is a scientific consensus that we have effectively lost 20% of the worldwide coral reef area known to date, that 75% is heavily threatened by climate change and human impacts, and that the 5% that is still healthy is located mostly in the Pacific. This makes an expedition to the islands of the South Pacific a prime opportunity to check how good the reefs are and why they are still healthy and it is a key location of interest for us at Corales de Paz.”
Next surveyed group of islands was Fiji. There Taveuni and Fulaga were visited. Live coral cover at the sites visited was >75% and few to none bleaching was observed (<10%). May 2-5 2019. Depth 0 – 5 m.
In Colombia, Phanor´s organization offers a range of coral reef monitoring and restoration projects and training programs to help coral reef users and managers actively engaged in proactive coral reef conservation strategies that can safeguard the ecosystem´s goods and services – a move that he believes is becoming increasingly important to our very own survival.
Vanuatu was next. There the expedition visited Moso and Motu Lava islands. Coral colonies were large and they have evidently survived previous bleaching events and other impacts. Live coral cover at the sites visited was 50%-75% and no bleaching was observed. May 10 – 14 2019. Depth 0 – 10 m. Motu Lava, Vanuatu. May 14 2019.
“There is no doubt that coral reef degradation is a present reality in many parts of the world,” he says. “I have seen some very healthy shallow coral reefs in the last five weeks, with almost 100% live coral cover that has clearly resisted or recovered from bleaching, which lead me to believe that climate change and coral bleaching are not the biggest of our worries. If we manage to protect those remaining healthy reefs, use them as sources of coral bleaching-resistant repositories, reduce the threats we have control over (e.g. CO2 emissions, pollution and overfishing), and increase coral reef restoration efforts, I think we can continue enjoying coral reefs for many more years. We have the recipe; we just need the political will to do it.”
The expedition finished with a visit to the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. There Vanikoro Island (Solomon Islands) and Dobu Island (Papua New Guinea) were visited. Coral reefs in the sites visited were thriving. Live coral cover was almost 100% at most sites, colonies were large and healthy, suggesting they have not seen or have resisted bleaching or any other disturbances in many years. No bleaching was observed. However, fishing pressure was evident as large predators were missing. May 15 – 20 2019. Depth 0 – 5 m.