based on a report by IEF member
Austin Bowden-Kerby in Fiji
23 September 2023
There is a serious developing situation with the collapse of coral reefs, as this represents a threat to the prosperity of our communities. Coral reefs were recognized as being the most vulnerable system to climate change decades ago, expected to be 90% dead under a 1.5°C increase, which may arrive soon. However not every region is the same, and in 2014-2019, Kiribati became the leading country globally in coral reef collapse due to climate change, and the massive death of corals has resulted in reef fish becoming too poisonous to eat on many reefs.
It is now urgent to respond before it is too late. Communities can train their youth about corals, to gather information on what corals remain and where, and build on that information to create coral nurseries where the corals of rare but formerly dominant species can be brought closely together so that they can finally reproduce again, sending out babies to the wider reef to help nature repair itself. Austin has prepared a short film about the urgency of the coral work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnJ-eUVJwqE.
For Tuvalu, where the work is going forward under the Bahá'í-inspired NGO Fuligafou, the situation has become extremely urgent, as the very first severe hot water coral bleaching event is now heading their way, and many or most of the corals of Tuvalu could be dead by January. So in early November, we plan to move heat-adapted corals from the hottest parts of Funafuti into cooler areas where they can survive in spite of the marine heat wave. That same marine heat wave may head into Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, etc. in February through May 2024, and so we will be planning appropriate actions as resources allow. We cannot wait any longer, as it will be too late to save the very corals needed for the future restoration of damaged coral reef ecosystems and the prosperity of the communities. With the global heat spike, which started in March 2023, many reefs will be gravely stressed in the coming months, and the corals will need more help than ever. Putting our community as a stimulant for action could make a big difference.
The Tuvalu work will include a 3 minute professionally-edited film, which Talua Naivaga, the director of the Baha'i inspired youth based NGO there, along with our contacts in the Coral Restoration Consortium, will take to COP 28, for presentation in the Ocean Pavilion. Where this will go is uncertain, but it is immensely important work, and only the Baha'is seem to be in a position at this critical juncture to take charge and lead the way, to include all those interested, like-minded government departments and individuals.
Here are the data graphs of the very dangerous situation that is presently killing Caribbean corals in the worse event in their history, where nearshore waters have reached 38°C (101°F), and this is now heading our way.
Sea Surface Temperature September 2023
Projected coral bleaching October 2023
Projected coral bleaching January 2024
The experts are unsure of what has caused the present heat wave on top of the already bad carbon-related climate change, but many think that the Tonga volcano ejecting massive amounts of water and salt into the upper atmosphere is likely part of it, delayed impacts which now might last for several years. The experts all agree that 2025 might be even worse, due to the arrival of El Nino, as typically the second year is worse. A "wait and see" approach for coral reefs is not wise. We may have a short window of time to act to save our corals, and no one in power seems to be giving the warning.
The governments and intergovernmental institutions like SPC and SPREP move far too slowly to do the emergency interventions required, and at this point they are mostly unaware of the grave situation, and even if they were, none of them has a strategy to save the coral reefs that are so vital to the food security of our communities. So the existing crisis in Kiribati, and the coming crisis in Tuvalu and the other islands represents an important opportunity for service. Once we rescue and secure the heat adapted corals, a longer term youth-focused service and educational program of extreme relevance to our region can then be developed around it.
Austin leads a Bahaí-inspired NGO, Corals for Conservation (C4C), that operates a livelihoods centre in Fiji which can accommodate groups of up to 30 people, and they have established training sites in the waters around Fiji, and can be viewed as a regional resource by the wider community. Kiribati and Vanuatu have asked for the coral work as a means of service to the community, as well as a doorway to increased knowledge. They also have trained Baha'is in the forefront of the coral work in Tuvalu, Samoa and New Caledonia, and will soon will also have one or more in Vanuatu. The Bahá'í-inspired NGOs like Corals for Conservation and Fuligafou in Tuvalu have the ability to to bring the coral reef and alternative livelihoods (happy chicken, etc.) programs to communities suffering from climate-change-related collapse of coral reefs, cyclones, and the destruction of associated protein and food resources.
Last updated 23 September 2023