Branching out

The people of Fiji have launched an ambitious attempt to save their magnificent coral reefs from uncontrolled development.

The beautiful coral reefs that encircle the Fijian islands are endangered. Ironically, it is their attraction that is placing them in jeopardy as their main threats are tourism, over-development and water pollution.

Aided by the Fijians, marine scientist Dr Austin Bowden-Kerby is heading the innovative and successful Coral Gardens Initiative to restore the coral reefs. This scheme promotes a high level of community participation in the management of natural resources. He said about the southern coast of Viti Levu, where the problem is especially acute: “This was called the coral coast of Fiji – now it’s called the dead coral coastÖ.’
Dr Bowden-Kerby believes that the careful control of human impact, rather than its elimination, is a better way of saving endangered reefs. To this end, he works closely with the local people who depend on the reef for a living and know it best. It was local fisherman who once told him that branching corals can actually move, something that academically trained marine biologists had not realized. ‘I didn’t believe it at first,’ he said ‘but I tagged some corals and found that they did move during a storm, some over 400 feet.’ He has discovered that if you mimic a hurricane by scattering broken branches of live corals onto the rubble, then the corals often attach to the rubble and begin re-establishing themselves. ‘So what we have to do is learn to work with nature to help it recover,” he said.

Dr Bowden- Kerby is also actively cultivating the reef by introducing friendly species, such as the giant clam, whilst weeding out the predators, such as octopus and the coral-eating Crown of Thorns starfish.

The project is gaining significant recognition for its effectiveness, since its inception three years ago. The corals are growing again and the Fijians enthuse on the increase in both the number and size of fish and shellfish along their shores.

If people are rich with their resources, they can survive in this world
Wana Sivoi, Foundation for the Peoples of the South Pacific

Starfish images courtesy of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
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