When Tropical Cyclone Winston struck Fiji back in 2016, it decimated the reefs across the archipelago’s Namena reserve and Vatu-i-Ra. But four years later, to the delight of researchers, the coral reefs in the region are now once again thriving with life and vibrant colors.
Following a recent expedition led by the Wildlife Conservation Society, scientists have found that the archipelago’s damaged coral reefs have rebounded beyond their expectations.
“I was surprised at how quick the recovery has been, especially at the Namena reserve,” said Sangeeta Mangubhai, the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Fiji. “The fast recovery likely reflects these reefs have good natural recruitment and they are well managed. Coral reefs that were healthier [before a destructive event like a cyclone] are expected to recover a lot faster.”
In addition to young coral colonies thriving once again in the two natural reserves, fish had also returned in swarms across all the areas, including parts of reefs where coral had not yet recovered fully.
Coral reefs are essential to Fiji’s surrounding marine ecosystems, providing a home for many fish species, serving as spawning and nursery grounds for commercially important fish, as well as supplying essential nutrients to the area’s marine biome.
As the Guardian reports, to ensure that the area’s coral ecosystem is protected, WCS is working together with the local iTaukei communities, who hold customary fishing rights over the Vatu-i-Ra and Namena reserves — both of which cover nearly 200 sq km and include various marine ecosystems such as shallow reefs and deep water passages. The partnership includes establishing reef management measures, such as large “no-take-areas” covering large sections of the reef.