Resilient reefs of Musandam (Oman) bucking bleaching carnage - a glimmer of hope for reefs in the face of climate change?

(lifePR) ( Höchberg, )
The corals of Oman's Musandam Peninsula continue to show remarkable resilience, enduring "extreme conditions such as high salinity and temperatures, existing – indeed thriving – in what would be considered marginal and highly challenging environments for corals in other parts of the world. This is remarkable and may hold they key to coral survival in the face of global warming and its devastating effects on reefs across much of the planet." This is the upbeat message from international conservation NGO Biosphere Expeditions after its eighth annual reef survey expedition to Oman. It is in stark contrast to the coral death and destruction in the Maldives reported on by the NGO in earlier this August.

Biosphere Expeditions have studied the Musandam reefs since 2009. The NGO's most recent scientific report cites "coral cover of between 25 and 89% at shallow (<10 m) depths" and "little evidence of any coral disease, bleaching or predation". Report authors Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt, the expedition scientist and coral expert from the Marine Conservation Society and Dr. Matthias Hammer, founder and executive director of Biosphere Expeditions, say that "this is in itself remarkable considering the impacts of the 2015/2016 El Niño event elsewhere in the region (e.g. Maldives). Corals appeared to be in a healthy ‘climax’ state on many of the shallow reefs, with many sites hosting very large Porites colonies, indicating no significant damaging events to these corals over the past 400 years."

Healthy, ancient corals, now a rarity around the world

"This is in stark contrast to the sad and devastating effects of bleaching we have recently reported from the Maldives", they continue, "and also the deeply worrying news about the Great Barrier Reef going down a path of catastrophic decline, death and destruction".

"Many divers will also know about 'Big Momma' in American Samoa, an ancient coral head that may be the world's biggest and oldest", Solandt says. "The coral heads around Musandam are about half that size, but there are many of them, in many sites, indicating an ancient, intact and largely undisturbed coral ecosystem". Hammer adds that "intact and undisturbed reefs are sadly very rare these days. The resilient Musandam corals may also hold the key to reef survival around the world. For these reasons they must be protected and studied".

Threats and dangers for this unique coral ecosystem

But there are problems too. The report cites "overfishing, cyclones, harmful algal blooms and extensive coastal developments" as very real threats and urges action. "There are hardly any grouper (hammour) left or lobsters", say the scientists. And further that in order "to help secure the fishing of the area, we recommend a number of no-take zones that could be set up in the northern part of the Peninsula. As coastal development in the area continues to grow, the lack of investment in fisheries management, regulation and enforcement will result in severe overfishing, and impoverished local communities. The signs of this are already apparent. We therefore strongly urge government to work with the local fishing fleet to designate, enforce and control fishing at the sites recommended in this report, and to clarify and communicate clearly a number of marine protection zones and regulations."

Government could do more - civil society does

"When the Oman government declared some protected areas in 2013, we welcomed this decision", says Hammer. "However, we have seen little enforcement or progress since then and urge the government to do more. Oman has this unique coral community, which is important for the rest of the world. And with it comes a unique responsibility too", concludes Hammer. "And where government fails, we now have civil society in Oman in the form of the success story of Reef Check Oman, founded earlier this year by graduates of our placement programme, which is designed to build capacity and empower local communities to run their own conservation programmes."

Coral biology

Corals are plant/animal hybrids that build coral reefs. They are called the “rainforest of the seas”, because they are the basis of life for a multitude of fish and other species. These coral rainforests are the foundation for fisheries, the Musandam's fishing culture, economy and well-being. They are also a tourist attraction. “Without this coral foundation, you cannot sustain a fishing economy or culture”, says Dr. Hammer, “nor can you create alternative incomes based on diving and other forms of tourism”.

See also

More information about the annual Musandam research expedition
Full technical research reports since 2009
More information about Biosphere Expeditions
Reef Check Oman
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