Friday, April 19, 2024

Save The Reef

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It’s that time of the year, tourists have arrived at the coast of Kenya, both domestic and foreign. The sun is up and the wind is gracefully blowing for the creative photographers to display their skills. The scenery offers a beautiful and satisfying encounter one can experience on holiday. Scuba divers and deep sea divers camp at Tiwi beach located at the south coast of Kenya north of Diani beach. The year is 2026 and the reefs are no more. They take pictures of the surviving almost invisible remains of reefs and swim back to the surface.  Anticipating children, expecting to see what was down there in a picture frame are hit with the harsh reality, “coral reefs are dead.” Well, this will be our story, the blue economy story, if we do not do something about the depleting reefs in most of Africa’s coastal areas.

Coral reefs are basically the rain forests of seas. They are one of the natural assets that support the coastal economy particularly- fisheries, tourism and coastal protection. The reefs are among the earth’s most diverse, beautiful eco-systems and have become a tourist hot spot in recent years for tourists who admire sports and water life. They are home to more than 140 species of both the hard and soft corals and play a diverse role. As well as biodiversity strongholds, corals are breeding grounds for fish and other marine life. In addition to that, corals offer a vital barrier against the force of the sea hence protecting marine endangered species.

What was once an inspiration for animations such as “Finding Nemo” and “Shark Tale” is slowly turning to a grotesque scene setting place.

The threats corals are facing.


damaged coral|photo|nationmultimedia.com

Overfishing majorly stresses coral reefs at the coasts of African countries. Despite countries such as Tanzania coming up with preventive measures, through joint community and a ban on aquarium fish collection in Mozambique, illegal fishing still exists. Mozambique in mid of 2018 reported that it loses 60 million dollars a year to illegal fishing. One can wonder, how does overfishing affect the reefs? Healthy coral reef eco-systems exist in a state of balance. Overfishing of certain species near coral reefs can easily affect the reef’s ecological balance and biodiversity. For instance, overfishing of herbivorous fish can also lead to high levels of algae growth.

Growth of coastal cities is sometimes a threat to sensitive coral habitat areas. They are destroyed or disturbed by dredging activities and through dumping of waste materials. For instance, sand harvesting ranging between 30-50 m reef slopes on the south coast of Kenya- at Waa and Tiwi- has for the past two months become a focus of conflict. The quality of sand deposits, the width of the shelf and limited depth seem to make this one of the main options to fill the needs for construction in Mombasa’s port-for mega projects including railways, terminals and other facilities ultimately affecting the corals.

Climate change is affecting eastern Africa coral reefs through temperature-induced bleaching ultimately leading to mortality. Coral reefs which are mostly found in shallow oceans along the coastline, provide the perfect place for marine life to thrive. high temperatures due to climate change lead to coral bleaching. Bleaching is a process where corals lose their vivid color and turn white. This happens when zooxanthella algae which provide corals with food die due to ocean warming and acidification.

Corals bleaching and mortality were most severe during the 1998 El-Nino rains. Coral cover at the Kenyan coast dropped from an average of 30% to 5-11per cent. Since then recovery has been patchy. Shallow reefs have witnessed a general recovery from the bleaching in contrast to the deeper reefs which have continually declined in coral cover. 

So why is it so important to protect the reefs?

Coral reefs are one of the natural assets that support the coastal economy particularly- fisheries, tourism and coastal protection. The reefs are among the earth’s most diverse, beautiful eco-systems and have become a tourist hot spot in recent years for tourists who admire sports and water life. They are home to more than 140 species of both the hard and soft corals and play a diverse role. As well as biodiversity strongholds, corals are breeding grounds for fish and other marine life. In addition to that, corals offer a vital barrier against the force of the sea hence protecting marine endangered species.


photo|thrillist.com

Coral reefs provide coastal protection and stabilization by reducing wave energy and mitigating both routine erosion and damage from waves associated with small and moderate storms.

Moreover, tourism which is a major industry in Africa sees corals act as a primary tourist attraction on the coastal areas.  The tourism sector in turn offers employment opportunities to those in diving and allied industries. Widespread coral bleaching has badly hit the African scuba diving industry.

Solutions to the problem

Restoration of highly degraded coral reefs will come a great way of solving the coral problem. This entails growing nursery-reared coral transplants in areas with degraded reefs.

Community-based tourism developments are encouraged especially smaller enterprises focused on diving and wilderness activities. More coverage and awareness about the issue should be done in tourism magazines and event-related occasions.

This will help the local community appreciate the reefs and take care of them. In addition to this, the rules on overfishing should be reinforced to curb the effects of overfishing.

It is the high time we took care of the reef so as to achieve the blue economy agenda. 

Dr. Edward Mungai
Dr. Edward Mungaihttp://www.edwardmungai.com/
The writer, Dr. Edward Mungai, is a global sustainability expert. He is the Lead Consultant and Partner at Impact Africa Consulting Ltd (IACL), a leading sustainability and strategy advisory in Africa. He is also the Chief Editor at Africa Sustainability Matters. He can be contacted via mailto:edward@edwardmungai.com

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