Ecosystem Restoration

Recently we went to a protected coral reef area and helped plant coral at Votua village. The villagers there have decided to help preserve the reefs in the area, as coral reefs are a very important part of marine ecosystems, and can support great biodiversity in an area that would be relatively barren otherwise.

Biodiversity

Biodiversity is the variation of the types of living things in an area. Because all organisms are interconnected through a food web, every organism is important to the healthiness of the eco-zone. If an area has a large amount of biodiversity, there is a lot of variety for organisms to choose to prey on or to use to benefit themselves. In areas with low biodiversity, like the arctic, with not much variety, the loss of one organism will greatly affect all of the others. In this way, biodiversity helps to protect the healthiness of an ecosystem by making it more resilient to the loss of species.

Coral Reef Restoration

The Importance of Coral

Coral is vastly important to the biodiversity of marine ecosystems (It shelters over 25% of all marine species) and to the people of Fiji as it provide an economic resource, medical resources, and marine life has cultural value to many tribes. They even serve to provide a barrier from large waves and from erosion. The village Votua may not have been there if not for the coral. Also, because many species of fish do not stay in the same area, the destruction of one coral region can negatively affect others, as they are all interconnected.

Problems

Coral are structures built by tiny organisms called coral polyps. These coral reefs take many years to form, and some coral only grows at a rate of 2cm/year. Because of this slow rate of growth, coral can take a long time to repair itself, and can be very vulnerable to damage done to it. There are a plethora of things being done that damage coral, and many of them are human based.

Fishing Practices

Destructive fishing practices and overfishing can harm the coral reef ecosystem. Dynamite fishing can be especially dangerous as it kill much more than the targeted species. Coral can become fractured and because of its incredibly slow growth rate it can take a long time to repair itself. Also, spawn fishing and overfishing can permanently damage the fish populations, depriving future generations of fish and disrupting the complex ecosystem in the coral reefs. Catching fish when they are breeding is effective because they are grouped together, but can remove several generations of fish.

Global Warming

Coral polyps are extremely sensitive to changes in temperature, so global warming can be a large problem for them. Between 1999 and 2000, many polyps were killed due to the increase in temperature, and much of the coral bleached and died.

Waste Water and Pollution

Wastewater and land runoff can pollute the coral reefs with a plethora of armful chemicals from farms and other harmful substances from septic tank waste.

Solutions

Research

Research is being done to assess the damage and find how best to help the coral reef ecosystem and to improve our understanding of marine environments.

Protected Areas

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are areas where fishing and the removal of anything living is prohibited. There are also temporary MPAs to protect fish during their breeding times. These are created and enforced by the villagers, and therefore do not ave legal penalties but local ones such as community service hours for removing coral. The primary hope is that with education people will learn to respect these MPAs because of their importance.

Education

Educating people about the damage that is being done to the coral reefs is vital to their protection. Without this knowledge, people may choose to ignore any advice given on environmentally friendly living, but with the knowledge of how important the reefs are, they can decide to preserve the reefs by their own choice, not just because someone told them to. Also, people work much more vigorously when they believe in a cause, like saving the coral reefs. Educating people on the importance of coral can bring more people to help preserve them.

Waste Water Management Systems

In Votua village they have utilized a waste management system for their waste water. It is simplistic and low-tech, but it is relatively affective in reducing the amount pollution from waste water reaches the coral.

Pollution Reduction

Substance Reduction
E. coli 99.9%
Nitrate 99.7%
Ammonia 99.6%
Nitrogen 96.8%
Phosphorus 93.8%

This reduction, after going through three stations, greatly reduces the pollution reaching the marine ecosystems. The System is relatively simple, using coconut husks, coconut shells, rock/gravel, and plants to filter out the harmful substances. The plants near the top of the station actually remove nitrogen from the soil, acting as a natural filter.

Planting Coral

The actual planting of the coral is the main part of the restoration project. For the planting process, first they collect portions of coral from healthier reefs, mainly coral of the genus Acropora. Then, seed material is fragmented and attached to concrete bases for support. These fragments are then grown out on racks for 3-8+ months, as they are generally too fragile until they manage to grow out a bit. Then, once able to support themselves, the new coral is transplanted in to MPAs and other ecosystems in need of coral.

Impact 

Ecotourism

Tourists on average spend $170 to $780, and much of it is on snorkeling equipment and diving equipment for looking at coral reefs and aquatic life. It is estimated that the coral reefs make USD $375 billion a year, much of it from tourism. Saving the coral reefs will have a great impact on Fiji’s tourism business.

Fishing

Once well established MPAs become overflowing with fish, the fish will have to move into other areas. This is called spilling over. This creates an abundance of fish to support the local fishermen, helping both the economy and the diversity in the area.

Longer Term

This restoration project has many long term goals, such as the spillover of fish. It also hope to have 30% of nearshore Fijian reefs protected by the year 2020 (currently they are at under 15% protection). With Fiji supporting these reefs it will create a thriving ecosystem that will be much more resilient to environmental problems due to its biodiversity. This will also support local fisherman and increase tourism, boosting Fiji’s economy.

Improvement

Government Involvement

As much as the villages are already doing, there needs to be an increase in government involvement in this project for it to fully succeed. The MPA are not enforced by the government, only by the villages, and while this can discourage villagers from breaking these rules, visitors from outside the village have no reason to follow these rules. Government assistance would greatly decrease the amount of coral damaged within these zones. The government could also promote awareness about the importance of the coral reef systems in Fiji and the importance of biodiversity through the school boards. Educating the younger generations is just as important to the restoration of the reefs because eventually it will be their job to ensure that the coral reef systems are still protected and preserved.

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