OCEAN VS CLIMATE CHANGE – NATURE WARS

We all love going to the beach, staying in nice resorts, dipping our feet in the water, eating and drinking by the sea. Some of us even like getting that little adrenaline rush of adventurous water activities like jet skiing, speed boat rides and such, which take off right from the shore. But how often do we think about what’s truly happening with the ocean, or what’s happening within the ocean? Sure, tourism has a negative impact on the beaches and the shores, but more and more people are becoming aware of the importance of keeping our beaches clean.

But what most of us don’t realise is that, there’s a greater threat looming over the ocean’s hypothetical head… climate change! We all know climate change as that phenomenon that is causing unprecedented temperature variations, making our summers warmer, and winters colder. Unfortunately, that’s the least of our problems when it comes to the effects of climate change. Even a 1° Celsius rise in the atmospheric temperature is enough to cause severe damage to our oceans, sometimes irreversible.

Rise in atmospheric temperature subsequently leads to rise in the temperature of the waters. This slight increase affects not only the composition of the water, but has detrimental impacts on what lies beneath. The ocean is home to some of the most diverse ecosystems and organisms that help maintain its integrity in more ways than one. It is home to several different habitats, such as coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves, etc. In turn these ecosystems harbour several more species of fish, molluscs, reptiles and a whole range of other vertebrates and invertebrates.

These ecosystems are so intricately linked with each other and the life they support, that a slight change in the habitat or a particular species has a direct impact on all that is associated with either of them. To give an example, let’s look at the coral reefs. Coral reefs are made up of different types of corals- hard (reef building) and soft corals (let’s say the ones that make the reef builders look pretty, like the sea fan). Corals have symbiotic algae residing within them that give corals their colour and most importantly, nutrition to them. Coral reefs are home to innumerable species of micro and mega fauna that help keep the reefs healthy and functioning. The parrot fish is one of the important fish species of the coral reefs. These fish chomp off the unhealthy algae that form a layer on the surface and suffocate the corals. Fun fact: the faeces of these parrot fish comes out looking like it could be sand. In fact, it actually becomes a predominant part of the sand that make up the white sandy beaches! (Take it from someone who has seen this first hand!).

Coming back to climate change. Rise in the ocean temperature causes that symbiotic algae of the corals to flee from it, leaving the coral without nutrition or colour. This is when the corals turn white, what is known as bleaching. This was known to be an irreversible phenomenon. However, there has been evidence of certain species of corals recovering from this event. This happens, of course, based on the extent of the bleaching event in the first place. The bleaching of corals results in the fish and other organisms associated with it, to leave the reef, since they depend on the corals for their survival. So what you end up with is an empty reef.

Because most things in the marine environment are interconnected, the death of a reef affects other marine ecosystems as well. Let’s look at this with another impact of climate change – rise in sea level. This can result in greater wave action, surges etc. And one of the major functions of reefs are that they provide protection to the coastlines by reducing the impact of the waves. They are essentially speed breaks for the waves moving towards the shore. In their absence, the impact of the waves on the seagrass beds and mangroves causes damage to their structure and functionality. This affects the biodiversity that each of these ecosystems support. Mangroves are also affected adversely because they cannot survive with higher salinity than what they are accustomed to. Moreover, mangroves have external roots that absorb atmospheric oxygen, and increase in water level will drown these roots.

Sea level rise also exacerbates the effects of storms, causing greater surges and subsequently, floods. Tuvalu, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, is one such place where sea level rise poses the biggest threat. The average height of the islands, above sea level, is >2m. That is almost similar to the average height of the shortest men in Indonesia! There are predictions that Tuvalu could be the first country to sink thanks to rise in sea level, much like Atlantis. Over the last few years, Tuvalu has faced series of flooding events. The extent of these events has led to poor groundwater quality, death of food crop, and in extreme situations, even forcing people to evacuate their own homes, leaving them homeless.

The threats to the ocean from climate change doesn’t end here. The war between the ocean and climate change is something that not a lot of people are aware of. This is just the beginning of what’s to unfold in the future if necessary action is not taken to mitigate or even lessen these impacts on the ocean. This is where, the sidekick, marine conservation comes into the picture. Conservation can range from removing debris off the beaches to actually protecting a particular species or habitat. Restoration plays a vital role in the conservation of the oceans. Artificial reefs are being built all around the world to restore what was once lost. Marine conservationists around the world are trying their best to help conserve and preserve our most precious asset. The success rates are, however, debatable. Nonetheless, our hope is that their efforts and the fight put up by them will help us reduce, if not reverse the effects of climate change that we see at present.

CORAL RESTORATION PROJECT – REETHI GARDEN

Reethi Faru has been mindful of importance of coral conservation since the construction phase of the resort. Artificial reefs have been deployed to salvage the corals that were damaged by coral bleaching and natural storms. These artificial reefs are accumulated in one place to create the “Reethi Garden” or coral garden. The transplantation process includes collection of broken or damaged (but live) pieces of coral and attaching them to coral frames. This gives the corals a chance at survival and enhance the existing reef habitats. Coral reefs are the heart of life in the Maldivian waters and restoration of this ecosystem is of paramount importance now. Our goal is to have multiple ‘Reethi gardens’ around the island and to create a sustainable long-term project to help preserve and conserve the coral reefs at Reethi Faru Resort.