Step up measures to save Kenya’s coral reefs

A fish swims through the coral. FILE PHOTO | NMG
A fish swims through the coral. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Due to increasing ocean temperatures in the last three decades, Kenya’s coral reefs have been exposed to severe heat stress resulting in widespread coral bleaching.

Bleaching is the whitening or paling of coral tissues due to loss of microscopic symbiotic algae and/or reduction of their photosynthetic pigment concentrations.

Coral reefs ecosystem is very crucial as spawning, breeding and shelter for several species of fish. The implication of bleaching therefore may result in the fauna in this system either adapting to the new conditions, which is very unlikely or most probable relocating to other areas.

The worst scenario is some of the fauna becoming extinct with serious biodiversity implications and this will be a big setback to the Marine Blue Economy, which Kenya and other countries in the region are keen on exploiting.

Kenya recently enacted the Fisheries Development and Management Act 2016 and has set up a task force to develop the Marine Fisheries Blue Economy strategy and related acts to support key institutions managing the sector.

Above average sea surface water temperatures and intensification of the El Niño Southern Oscillation Event have caused mass coral bleaching around the world in 2016.

Often mass coral bleaching events are as result of the prolonged exposure of corals to unusually warm ocean temperatures, resulting in the expulsion of symbiotic algae from host corals commonly referred to as bleaching of corals.

The bleaching response of corals was monitored by a team of KMFRI scientists for two months across five major reef locations in Kenya.

Preliminary findings of a comprehensive scientific survey examining the impact of the climate change-related 2016 mass bleaching in Kenya indicate that all reefs surveyed were affected by the event.

Approximately 60 per cent of all coral colonies assessed were bleached and up to 20 per cent in some sites – were recently dead as result of thermal stress.

Mukaraku is corporate communications officer at Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute while Bwire writes on the environment and media.