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Coral bleaching Maldives 2016

Andy Bruckner, Coral Reef CPR Director

Globally, 2016 is the warmest year on record, exceeding 2015- the second warmest. These steamy temperatures can be attributed in part to climate change and to the longest El Niño in history. The Maldives were no exception. During April/May 2016 the sea water temperatures heated up to 31-33 C; simultaneously the sea was unusually calm, currents were absent and there was no cloud cover. Together these conditions created intolerable conditions for the corals, which turned stark white through a process known as bleaching. In many locations, the faster growing branching and table corals subsequently died, and shallow reefs are now a graveyard of skeletons carpeted in turf algae.

However, the Maldives was lucky and not all their corals died, and some reefs escaped the perilous conditions. Unlike the Great Barrier Reef in Australia where the high temperatures caused the most devastating bleaching and coral death ever documented, the Maldives fared much better. The massive boulder corals bleached, but most recovered. On the reef slopes where there was less penetration of harmful ultraviolet radiation, the branching, table, plating and foliaceous corals survived much better. You will find some dead corals, but you also find many that are still living, and the corals have started to regain their coloration. What was most unexpected was the high survival of small corals- the babies that settled last year and juveniles that are about the size of a baseball all survived. Further, some corals appear to be adapting to the warmer waters – they didn’t bleach at all, and these are likely to spawn during the annual reproductive period next March/April, providing lots of babies that can reseed damaged areas. We also found reefs where there was virtually no coral death – locations on Ari Atoll, and Baa Atoll in particular still have thriving coral communities.

All of these signs point towards coral reefs that are highly resilient and already quickly rebounding. Fortunately, the corals that did die are those that grow the fastest, produce lots of larvae, and exhibit very high settlement. Unlike the devastating coral bleaching event in 1998, research done by Coral Reef CPR suggests that most Maldivian reefs will rebound and look much like they did prior to the bleaching event within five years.
The Coral Reef CPR team were all ocean lovers before becoming coral reef scientists. As a result, we always appreciate our surroundings whilst conducting scientific surveys. Partnering with Carpe Diem Fleet Maldives has provided us with a unique opportunity to assess the health, state and recovery of coral reefs throughout the Maldives- often for the first time! Visiting nine atolls and diving over 40 different reefs gave us a great chance to understand these reefs, and the impact of the global coral bleaching event this year.
Despite this bleaching event, the Maldives still promises some of the most incredible and diverse diving on offer! The country still supports huge populations of endangered and rare animals, including whale sharks and manta rays, incredibly healthy turtle populations with up to a dozen on certain dives and a rebounding shark population which includes grey reef, tiger, black tip and white tip reef sharks. Our dives were always different. Reef fish populations are incredibly healthy throughout the atolls, with shoals of 1000+ being a common feature of many reefs.
We recommend diving in the Maldives if you want unique animals, diverse reefs and beautiful scenery.

Coral bleaching Maldives 2016

Andy Bruckner, Coral Reef CPR Director

Globally, 2016 is the warmest year on record, exceeding 2015- the second warmest. These steamy temperatures can be attributed in part to climate change and to the longest El Niño in history. The Maldives were no exception. During April/May 2016 the sea water temperatures heated up to 31-33 C; simultaneously the sea was unusually calm, currents were absent and there was no cloud cover. Together these conditions created intolerable conditions for the corals, which turned stark white through a process known as bleaching. In many locations, the faster growing branching and table corals subsequently died, and shallow reefs are now a graveyard of skeletons carpeted in turf algae.

However, the Maldives was lucky and not all their corals died, and some reefs escaped the perilous conditions. Unlike the Great Barrier Reef in Australia where the high temperatures caused the most devastating bleaching and coral death ever documented, the Maldives fared much better. The massive boulder corals bleached, but most recovered. On the reef slopes where there was less penetration of harmful ultraviolet radiation, the branching, table, plating and foliaceous corals survived much better. You will find some dead corals, but you also find many that are still living, and the corals have started to regain their coloration. What was most unexpected was the high survival of small corals- the babies that settled last year and juveniles that are about the size of a baseball all survived. Further, some corals appear to be adapting to the warmer waters – they didn’t bleach at all, and these are likely to spawn during the annual reproductive period next March/April, providing lots of babies that can reseed damaged areas. We also found reefs where there was virtually no coral death – locations on Ari Atoll, and Baa Atoll in particular still have thriving coral communities.

All of these signs point towards coral reefs that are highly resilient and already quickly rebounding. Fortunately, the corals that did die are those that grow the fastest, produce lots of larvae, and exhibit very high settlement. Unlike the devastating coral bleaching event in 1998, research done by Coral Reef CPR suggests that most Maldivian reefs will rebound and look much like they did prior to the bleaching event within five years.
The Coral Reef CPR team were all ocean lovers before becoming coral reef scientists. As a result, we always appreciate our surroundings whilst conducting scientific surveys. Partnering with Carpe Diem Fleet Maldives has provided us with a unique opportunity to assess the health, state and recovery of coral reefs throughout the Maldives- often for the first time! Visiting nine atolls and diving over 40 different reefs gave us a great chance to understand these reefs, and the impact of the global coral bleaching event this year.
Despite this bleaching event, the Maldives still promises some of the most incredible and diverse diving on offer! The country still supports huge populations of endangered and rare animals, including whale sharks and manta rays, incredibly healthy turtle populations with up to a dozen on certain dives and a rebounding shark population which includes grey reef, tiger, black tip and white tip reef sharks. Our dives were always different. Reef fish populations are incredibly healthy throughout the atolls, with shoals of 1000+ being a common feature of many reefs.
We recommend diving in the Maldives if you want unique animals, diverse reefs and beautiful scenery.

Coral Reef CPR

Coral Reef CPR joining Carpe Vita Nov. 10/20

Marine biologist from Coral Reef CPR joining again on Carpe Vita November 10/20

Andy Bruckner, Coral Reef CPR Director

The Maldives is known for its megafauna, with annual arrivals of mantas and whale sharks, frequent sitings of pilot, humpback and even blue whales, dolphins, recovering shark populations and an abundance of hawksbill turtles.  The Maldives has over 1190 islands in 26 atolls, and also support more coral reef habitat than anywhere else in the Indian Ocean. In fact, the Maldives has more coral reef than the entire Caribbean Sea and about 3.5% of all shallow water coral reefs found worldwide.  The reef structures are unique and diverse ranging from outer, exposed fore reef communities, steeply sloping walls, and lagoonal reefs (circular faru’s and seamounts known as a thila) influenced by tidal currents, to swift flowing, deep clefts (c20160415-P7260002hannel reefs known locally as a kandu) in the rim of the atoll.  They also support more than 220 species of corals, 1,200 reef fish and thousands of other invertebrates.  Yet for more of these reefs, especially those around the more remote northern atolls, we know very little about their structure, composition or health, or the challenges and opportunities they present.

We do know that coral reefs in the Maldives and also elsewhere on the planet are under severe threat as a result of unusual warmer than normal conditions due to the combined impacts of climate change and the worst El Niño event recorded in history.  Other Pacific and Indian Ocean-wide threats, such as the recent population explosion of the voracious crown of thorns starfish (COTS) place these reefs under further risk.

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Coral reef scientists are also aware that the reefs of the Maldives may be doing better than many other locations.  The wide expanses (more than 90,000 square kilometers!) of clean, open ocean water flushes these reefs during the winter and summer monsoons, cooling the reef and bathing it in a nutrient rich plankton soup.  Further, with exception of the densely populated, highly urbanized city of Malé, there are very few people in the Maldives, and very little direct human pressures on the reefs. Fortunately for the coral reefs.

While guests will be enjoying the normal 4 dives a day offered by the Carpe Vita on this part Northern itinerary, we will thoroughly characterize the coral and fish communities, and their health as we did on our previous trip with the Carpe Vita in August 2016. These surveys will allow us to determine how severe the 2016 coral bleaching event was throughout the Maldives , by combining these data with information from our other sites in Central Maldives and our previous visit.  We will also gather valuable information on the spread of the COTS and impacts of these starfish.

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COTS first appeared on the west side of North Malé Atoll in 2013, and in 2015 they begin to spread, invading South Malé atoll and Ari Atoll.  Recently, they’ve been spotted on Lhaviyani and Shaviyani Atolls.  Yet, little is known about their abundance, or effects on these reefs.   Whenever we spot a starfish, we’ll collect it to gather additional scientific information on its genetics and also to prevent it from causing more damage on the reef.  In 2015, in about a week, a team of four scientists removed over 7,500 starfish from two reef systems in North Malé Atoll and one in South Malé Atoll, saving these reefs from demise.  We plan to undertake the same effort during this excursion if we identify outbreaks of the starfish, saving the corals while preventing further expansion of the starfish and future outbreaks.

We are extremely excited to partner with Carpe Diem Maldives Fleet and looking forward to working alongside their team to research these reefs and preserve their health! We will be running regular educational seminars during the trip and be available for all questions, no matter the time of day!

For more information on the work of Coral Reef CPR please visit our website (www.coralreefcpr.org) and if you want to make a difference, why not donate now to help coral reefs of the Maldives (www.coralreefcpr.org/donate-now.html)!