Most of the attention around coral reefs is typically centered on reefs that are part of the Great Barrier Reef, pacific island reefs or Caribbean reefs. All too often, we forget that there are reef systems spread throughout the world that need protecting.
Recently, the Coral Reef Status report for the Western Indian Ocean 2017 revealed that hard coral cover has increased from 10% in the 1990’s to 60% today off the coast of Kenya which cover up to two-thirds of its coastline.
This news is so encouraging especially after you take in the account that in 2003, hard coral cover was below 5% and the fate of it was not encouraging.
Hard corals are commonly referred to as the architects of reef systems and grow in colonies. They include species such as Brain and Elkhorn coral and will create skeletons out of calcium carbonate that will eventually become as hard as rock.
Kenya has a rich and diverse coral reef system that plays an important factor for country and the Indian Ocean. The reefs provide fishing grounds, tourist money and coastal protections to the country while creating natural habitats for marine species to flourish. Economically, the reefs systems provide Kenya one of the biggest sources of income through fisheries and business related to eco tourism.
Since the 1990’s, the reef system has seen the rise and fall in coral cover due to major coral bleaching in 1998 that resulted in 25 per cent loss and another major bleaching event in 2016 that resulted in another 10%.
The 60% cover that was recorded this year has been the highest it has been since the 1990’s and the report found that the highest percent of hard coral cover was found in protected marine areas. The report also found that open access reefs (non-protected areas) consistently had the lowest hard coral cover at 38%.
With evidence that protected areas are encouraging the growth of new coral, it is a positive step forward in creating more protected areas but concern still looms over the fate of the reefs. Threats to the reefs include over exploitation, nutrient pollution, the use of destructive fishing methods and climate change. With the rise of population and warming global temperatures, the threats to reef systems are expected to increase in the coming decades.
To help prevent the loss of reef systems and continue a positive trend, the report advises Kenya to apply and strengthen policies for coral protection and restoration.