Researching climate resilience in coral reefs

Watamu Marine National Park (WMNP) is one of the oldest no-take Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the world, established in 1968. Since then, the park has been protected against human threats like fishing and unsustainable coastal development. However, the coral reefs in the park still face the threat of increasing thermal stress and coral bleaching.

Our Marine team, led by Peter Musila and joined by Dr Benjamin Cowburn, who helped initiate the Marine programme at A Rocha Kenya, diligently took up the regular coral monitoring activity during October. Every six months since 2020, the team revisits over 600 tagged corals in 70 permanent plots to see how the corals are growing and assess if there are bleaching resistant colonies and if baby corals (recruits) have settled in the plots. Our Marine team is concerned about coral bleaching with the predicted El-Nino marine heatwave, due to arrive in April next year. Plot monitoring will increase to monthly through the warm water season, to closely monitor any bleaching and mortality that occurs. The corals experienced bleaching in 2020 but many survived. If we can identify colonies that are resistant again in 2024, these will make good candidates for coral gardening and reef restoration, currently being planned and approved by Kenya Wildlife Service.

Why protect the corals? Coral reefs are some of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth. They support more species per unit area than any other marine environment, including about 4,000 species of fish, 800 species of hard corals and hundreds of other species. Scientists estimate there may be millions of undiscovered species of organisms living in and around reefs. This biodiversity is considered key to finding new medicines for the 21st century. We also believe that coral reefs have value independent of any use to humans and should be protected regardless, as creatures loved by God.

Monitoring efforts in 2024 will require extra funding and volunteers to help. You can support this work by giving a coral care package to help monitor reefs in Watamu Marine National Park through Gifts with a Difference. Or come and volunteer with the coral survey! If you have any unwanted snorkel or scuba kit, we would be happy to put it to good use – email [email protected] to arrange transfer of kit to Kenya.

This picture taken three years ago of a coral in a devastating stage is now considered to be in good condition.

There is indeed great hope for the corals to survive. Let’s join hands and protect our corals.