Technical ReportPDF Available

EXPEDITION REPORT-bleaching assessment of Maldives reefs (July 2016)

Authors:
  • Marine Conservation Society

Abstract and Figures

In July 2016 Biosphere Expeditions volunteers carried out a week of Reef Check surveys in Ari atoll, Maldives. The surveys were undertaken by four Maldivian placement recipients, fee-paying volunteer citizen scientists from around the world, and staff from Biosphere Expeditions and the Marine Conservation Society. A half-day effort-based whale shark survey was also carried out at the outer reef of South Ari Marine Protected Area, yielding zero encounters. Coral reef surveys using the Reef Check methodology concentrated on revisiting permanent monitoring sites in Ari atoll, central Maldives, that have been surveyed either since 2005, or every other year since 2011. Surveys were carried out two months after the El Niño coral bleaching event where temperatures reached 33 degrees Celsius, and lasted for two weeks. Most reefs appeared to have been severely impacted by bleaching, with inner reefs more so (7% live coral cover) than outer reefs (25% live coral cover). Some inner reefs (e.g. Angaga and Kudafalhu), which had previously been affected by coral-damaging storms in 2015, had extremely low coral cover (under 5%). Much of the remaining live coral within inner reef sites was being consumed by significant outbreaks of Crown-of-Thorns starfish Acanthaster planci (some 1.4x the intensity of the worst Great Barrier Reef outbreaks), and there continues to be strong evidence of consistent overfishing, with an almost complete absence of large grouper at all sites. There is no denying that these results are shocking and extremely worrying. The 2017 expedition will re-survey these reefs to assess coral survival rates and the long-term health and resilience of corals, particularly of the outer reefs where many Porites colonies remained bleached two months after the May warming event. We believe the only hope for inner reefs is considerable grazing pressure to remove the colonising algae, so that recruitment of young corals can occur. If this is not enabled, through protection of natural reef fish populations, we may see a more permanent ’phase shift’ to an algal or corallimorph-dominated reefs, with concomitant disastrous effects on fish and overall reef biodiversity. This has already been witnessed on two reefs surveyed by this project in the Maldives since 2005. Overall, the equitable provision of high quality reefs and their resources will further diminish unless drastic actions are taken by government to address the lack of management measures that are pushing reefs in the Maldives to the brink of collapse. These reefs are less likely to recover from mass-bleaching if overfishing and associated trophic cascades and inappropriate infrastructure development continue on a nationwide basis.
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EXPEDITION
REPORT
Expedition dates:
9
15 July 2016
Report published:
A
pril
Little and large:
surveying and safeguarding
coral reefs & whale sharks in the Maldives
.
1
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
EXPEDITION REPORT
Little and large: surveying and safeguarding
coral reefs & whale sharks in the Maldives.
Expedition dates:
9
15 July
201
6
Report published:
A
pril
201
7
Authors:
Jean
-
Luc Solandt
Marine
Conservation Society &
Reef Check
Co
-
ordinator Maldives
Matthias Hammer
(editor)
Biosphere Expeditions
2
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
Abstract
I
n
July 2016
Biosphere Expeditions volunteers
carried out a week of Reef
Check surveys
in
Ari
atoll, Maldives.
Th
e surveys were undertaken by four
Maldivian
placement recipients, fee
-
paying volunteer citizen scientists
from
around the world, and staff from Biosphere Expeditions
and the Marine
Conservation Society
.
A half
-
day effort
-
based whale shark survey was also
c
arried out at the outer reef of South Ari Marine Protected Area, yielding zero
encounters.
Coral reef s
urveys
using the Reef Check methodology
concentrated on
revisiting
permanent monitoring
sites
in Ari atoll, central Maldives,
that have
been surveyed
either
since 2005,
or
every other year since 2011
.
S
urveys
were
carried out
two
months after the
El Ni
ñ
o
coral
bleaching
event
where
temperatures reached 33 degrees
Celsius
, and lasted for two weeks
. Most reefs
appeared to
have
be
en
severely impacted by
bleaching
,
with inner reefs more
so (7% live coral cover)
than outer reef
s
(25% live coral cover).
Some inner
re
efs (e.g. Angaga and Kudafalhu), which
had
previously
b
een affected by
coral
-
damaging
storms in 2015,
had extremely low coral cover (under 5%)
.
Much of the remaining live coral
within inner reef sites
was being consum
ed by
significant
outbreaks of
Crown
-
of
-
Thorns starfish
Acanthaster planci
(some 1.4
x
the
intensity
of the worst Great Barrier Reef outbreaks)
,
and there continues to
be strong evidence of consistent overfishing
, with an almost complete absence
of large grouper at all sites
.
There is no denying that these results are sh
ocking
and extremely worrying. The 2017 expedition will re
-
survey these reefs
to
assess
coral survival rates
and
the
long
-
term health
and resilience of corals
,
particularly of
the outer reefs
where many
Porites
colonies
remained
bleached
two
months after
the
May
warming event
. We believe
the only hope for inner
reefs is considerable grazing pressure to
remove the colonising
algae
,
so
that
recruitment of young corals can occur
. If this is
n
o
t enabled
,
through
protection
of natural reef fish populations
, we may se
e a more permanent ’
phase shift
to
an algal or corallimorph
-
dominated
reef
s
, with concomitant disastrous effects on
fish and overall reef biodiversity.
This has already been witnessed
o
n
two
reefs
surveyed
by this project
in the Maldives since 2005.
Overall, the e
quitable provision of high quality reefs and their resources will
further diminish unless drastic actions are taken by government to address the
lack of management measures that are
pushing reefs
in the Maldives
to the
brink of collapse. These reefs are le
ss likely to recover from mass
-
bleaching if
overfishing and associated trophic cascades and inappropriate infrastructure
development continue on a nationwide basi
s.
3
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
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.
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'
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.
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)
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ް ު ެ ެ ު ަ ޮ
ި
(
ވއގކތރފ ނނއ
ެ ެ ަ ު ަ ު ަ ަ ް ަ
.
ކނތނތ އއބ ނއރތ ގމ
ީ ި ީ
ަ ަ ް ަ ް ެ ަ ް ެ ެ ެ
2005
ވނތނތ ނނއ ނމލބ ވރކ ވސ ނގށފ ނރހއ
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.
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ެ
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ީ
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2011
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ް
ި
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ި
.
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ި ީ ީ ި ި ި
2015
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ި
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.
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ި
%)
5
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.
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ި ި
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.
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ވއގމކ މޒނ ލއހމ ގރފ އއ ޑބ މނއ ގޔނދ ނވއފށކ
ާ ަ ު ަ ު ާ ު ަ ާ ެ ު ަ ް ެ ު ޮ ެ ް ެ ެ ޭ ު ަ ަ ް ޮ
ި ި ީ ި ީ ި
'
ފރ ރޔރބ ޓއރގ
ް ަ ެ ް ެ ް
ީ ި ި
'
ރވ ރކ ށއ
ަ ަ ު ް ަ
ި
ރވ ށ
ެ ު ް
1.4
ނގ
ަ ު
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ެ ެ ަ ަ ަ ް ު ޮ
ި
.
ވކރވ ވނވ ޑބނކ ސވށރވ ށކމއގ ޑކ ދފ ޖއރ އމ
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ީ ީ ި
.
ގމނބސމ ނއނގ މ ނރތއ ގމ
ެ ު ު ޭ ް ަ ް ަ ާ ް ު ު ެ
ި ި ީ
ި
ވއވއފށކ ރސއ ވދނ ށކތރފ ސވނބބސ
ެ ެ ެ ަ ް ޮ ު ަ ޭ ެ ޭ ް ަ ަ ު ަ ް ެ ް ު ަ ަ
ި
.
ދ ސވށރވ މކނކ ނގނއ ދއ ނނފ ނކތވސ މ
ެ ް ެ ް ަ ަ ަ ް ަ ު ު ެ ަ ު ު ެ ް ު ަ ޭ ާ
ީ ި
ި
ނރއހ ،ރ
ް ާ ަ ަ
ި
ވމކނކ ވނވރކ
ެ ެ ަ ް ަ ަ ު ު
ި ި
.
2017
ވއނވރކ ވސ ނލއ އކޓށމތގނދ ތލހ ގކތރފ މ ރހއ ނވ
ެ ެ ެ ޭ ެ ު ޭ ާ ް ު ަ ަ ަ ް ަ ު ަ ެ ެ ު ަ ާ ެ ު ަ ު ަ ު ަ ަ ަ ަ
ި ި
.
ރވ ވލއ ރދ ށތކރމ ލގ އގކތ ވސ މ
ު ަ ާ ާ ާ ް ަ ަ ަ ު ާ ަ ަ ު ަ ޭ ާ
ި ި ި
ި
ވއނވލބ ރވނމ ރހ ނލވ ގތކތއ އމކޔހޅދ ގކތކރމ ،އމލބ
ެ ެ ެ ޭ ެ ެ ު ަ ް ު ް ު ެ ެ ަ ެ ާ ަ ޮ ެ ަ ު ެ ު ަ ަ ަ ު ާ ު ެ
ި ި ި ި ި
ީ
.
ހ
ާ
އގކތރފ ތރފ ރބ އގއތގސއ
ި ި
ަ ު ަ ު ަ ު ާ ަ ު ޭ ަ ް ެ ޮ ަ ް
'
ނނ ލއ
ޯ ް ެ
ީ
'
ވއފވދހ ރވސވދ
ާ ަ ެ ު ު ު ަ ް ަ ު
ި
'
ސޓއރޕ
ް ަ ޮ
ި
ި
'
ވއނވރކ ސރދ ލބ ތލހ ގކތރމ ޔކ އ
ެ ެ ެ ޭ ެ ު ާ ާ ާ ަ ު ަ ާ ެ ު ަ ަ ު ޭ ޭ
ި
ި
.
ކދމނއ ނކއމހ ތއ ށމރދ ގކތރފ ގތރފ ރތއ ،އގތގކއދ ނކތސރދ ނވރކ މ ރހފމ
ީ ީ ި ި ި ި
ަ ް ު ަ ެ ަ ަ ް ޮ ް ަ ު ެ ު ަ ު ަ ެ ު ާ ަ ެ ެ ެ ަ ު ޮ ާ ް ަ ް ު ަ ާ ާ ު ު ެ ު ު ަ ަ
ި ި
ވމވދމތބސނގހފ
ެ ެ ު ު ަ ް ަ ް ެ ެ
ި ީ
.
ވއނށފ ނވލއ އގނތނތއ ކރމ ދކ ނރއ
ެ ެ ެ ާ ަ ް ާ ާ ާ ަ ު ަ ް ަ ެ ަ ަ ު ު ް ު ޭ
ި
ި
.
ނދ މނ ޖއވރކނ ނކމ ކއމރކޖނމރޝރޕ ގމކރވސމ
ް ެ ަ ަ ެ ް ެ ު ު ް ަ ު ެ ާ ު ު ް ޭ ެ ަ ެ ް ެ ު ަ ެ ް ަ
ި ި ި
ވކކތރސއ ދފ ނވރކނ ދޔއ ނލއ ނދނގނފ
ެ ެ ެ ަ ު ަ ަ ަ ަ ެ ޭ ެ ު ު ަ ާ ް ު ަ ާ ް ެ ެ
ި ީ ި
.
ސމ ޅއރދ އގކތރފ ،އކތރފ މ އއ
ް ަ ޭ ު ަ ު ަ ު ަ ާ ަ ު ަ ެ
ި ި ި ި ީ
ި
ގކތރފ އކތ
ެ ު ަ ު ަ ާ ަ
ި
'
ޔބ
ޯ ަ
ޓސރވއޑ
ީ
ި ި
ަ ަ
'
ވކމކ ނރކ ށޑބ ށރވ ރސއ ވދނ ގއ ސވށއ
ެ ެ ެ ަ ެ ާ ު ް ަ ޮ ް ަ ަ ު ަ ަ ޭ ެ ޭ ެ ޭ ް ެ ް ަ
.
އކތރސއ ދފމ
ް ެ ަ ު ަ ަ ަ ަ
ި
2015
ނކބސހ ދ ގޖއރ އގ
ް ު ަ ާ ެ ެ ޭ ް ާ ަ
ި ި
ވކކއހ ގމ މކވއފނފ
ެ ެ ެ ް ެ ެ ަ ާ ަ ެ
ީ ީ ި ި
.
ރސ ދއ ،މނޖއޓއހލބނ ށޅގނރ ށތރފ މ ،އގއތގލމޖ
ު ަ ަ ަ ަ ެ ް ް ެ ެ ެ ު ް ަ ަ ަ ް ަ ު ަ ަ ް ެ ޮ ަ ް ު
ި
ި
ި ި
ނރހމ ށމރކ ތޔމހ އތރފ ނގއގނސއ ނރކ
ް ު ާ ް ަ ު ު ް ަ ާ ް ަ ު ަ ް ެ ަ ަ ް ް ު ާ
ި ި ި ި
ށކހވދ އހވދ ނދ އތތލސވ ނހނހއ ކއކއ ބލ ނއގއ އމކޔހޅދ ގކތރފ ގޖއރ ،މނޖއޅނ ޅވޔފ ށރހމ
ް ަ ަ ަ ު ް ެ ަ ު ާ ް ަ ް ަ ަ ް ެ ެ ެ ެ ެ ޭ ް ެ ޭ ާ ަ ޮ ެ ަ ު ެ ު ަ ު ަ ެ ޭ ް ާ ަ ަ ެ ް ޭ ު ަ ަ ް ަ ާ
ީ ީ ި ި ި ި ި ި ި ި
ި
ވނނމވށދ
ެ ެ ް ު ަ ް ަ
.
ނނ ތގ ވނޓއހމދ ،ކއ އޔމ މހ
ް ޫ ް ޮ ެ ް ެ ެ ެ ު ެ ާ ަ ަ
ި ި ި ި
ތޑބ ދފ ވނނގށކއ ށޓއވ މ ،އމނބ ސމ ނއނގމ ށތގތގ
ި ި
ެ ޮ ަ ަ ާ ު ް ެ ަ ެ ް ަ ް ެ ާ ު ޭ ް ަ ް ަ ާ ް ަ ޮ ް ޮ
ީ ި ި ި
މ ،މނޖއވތމރކ އއސރކ ޑބ ދފވދހ އތކރމ އލގ ،ކއކތރސއ ރކ ނބބސ ގކތތކއ◌ސމ ކއ ނރމއ
ި ި ި ި ި ީ
ަ ަ ެ ް ެ ަ ު ް ެ ާ ާ ު ޮ ަ ަ ާ ު ު ް ަ ަ ަ ު ާ ަ ު ެ ާ ަ ު ަ ަ ާ ު ް ު ަ ަ ެ ު ަ ް ަ ް ަ ަ ެ ާ ް ު
ި
ަ
ރދނ ށރވ ކމވ ލއ ވރދ ނލއ އތރފ
ު ާ ް ަ ަ ަ ު ާ ާ ާ ު ް ު ަ ް ަ ު ަ
ި ި
ީ
ވކމކ
.
4
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
Contents
Abstract
2
ޓކރޓސބއ
ް ެ ް ް ް ެ
ް
3
Contents
4
1. Expedition review
5
1.1. Background
5
1.2. Research area
7
1.3. Dates
8
1.4. Local conditions & support
8
1.5. Scientist
9
1.6. Expedition leader
9
1.7. Expedition team
9
1.8. Other p
artners
9
1.9. Expedition budget
10
1.10. Acknowledgements
11
1.11. Further information & enquiries
11
2. Reef Check survey
12
2.1. Introduction and background
12
2.2. Results
2
1
2.3. Discussions and conclusions
3
5
2.4.
Lite
rature cited
3
6
Appendix I: Expedition diary and reports
4
0
5
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
Please note: Each expedition report is written as a stand
-
alone document that can be read
without having to refer back to previous reports. As such, much of this section, which
remai
ns valid and relevant, is a repetition from previous reports, copied here to provide the
reader with an uninterrupted flow of argument and rationale.
1. Expedition review
1.1. Background
Biosphere Expeditions runs wildlife conservation research expediti
ons to all corners of the
Earth. Our projects are not tours, photographic safaris or excursions, but genuine research
expeditions placing ordinary people with no research experience alongside scientists who
are at the forefront of conservation work. Our ex
peditions are open to all and there are no
special skills (scientific or otherwise) required to join. Our expedition team members are
people from all walks of life, of all ages, looking for an adventure with a conscience and a
sense of purpose. More inform
ation about Biosphere Expeditions and its research
expeditions can be found at
www.biosphere
-
expeditions.org
.
This expedition report deals with an expedition to
the Maldives that ran from
9 to 15 July
2
016
with the aim of surveying and studying
the
response and
recovery of reefs since the
catastrophic 1998
and 2016
bleaching event
s
.
The project also
tie
s
in sightings of whale
sharks with the work of
a
local charity
the
Maldives Whaleshark Research Programme
(MWSRP), based in southern Ari atoll.
Although the Maldivian reef atolls comprise of a rich
mixture of spectacular corals and a multitude of fish and other animals, the government
of
the
Maldives
identified a
need for further research and monitoring work as far back as
1997.
W
ith this project
Biosphere Expeditions
is addressing this need and is working with
the
Marine Conservation Society
(MCS)
and the
MWSRP
in order to p
rovide vital data on
reef health and whale shark
sightings
. Reef data collection follows an internationally
recognised coral reef monitoring programme, called
Reef Check
, and will be used to make
informed management and conservation decisions.
Whale shark
photos will be used by
the
MWSRP
for their conservation efforts. The expedition
also
included training for
participants as
Reef Check
EcoDiver
s, and for
an
individual
(of the Maldives Whaleshark
Research Project)
to become
an
in
-
country Reef Check EcoDiver
T
rainer
.
Many reefs in the
central
Maldives are
show
ing significant
signs of stress
. S
ome
remain
resilient and are
in good condition, but others
are
faring much worse
with disease
(principally white syndrome), predators (Crown
-
of
-
Thorns
,
Drupella
snails),
and persistent
low
-
level bleaching. Many reefs are also outcompeted by algal turfs, macroalgae and
some sponges. Indeed
,
some reefs
we have encountered have
already shifted to a non
-
coral state such as
those
dominated by turfs and corallimorphs (principally
Discosoma
)
.
Apart from supporting an expanding tourism and recreation industry, coral reefs also play
an unrival
led role in fisheries and in
the culture and lifestyle of the people of the Maldives
relative to most other Indian Ocean states. Tourism, ree
f fishing, coral
sand
mining,
dredging, reclamation and the construction of maritime structures
,
as well as
pollution
represent most
of the
impacts on coral reefs
that can be directly managed in the Maldives.
Resilience to the impacts of climate change can
be monitored (e.g.
by
record
ing
recovery
trajectories of different reefs to mass
-
bleaching events). Reef Check
is
an extremely useful
tool to inform local managers where conservation action such
as
community
-
based
management and MPAs should be targete
d
.
6
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
With the introduction of tourism in the Maldives in the 1970s, the country started to gain a
major source of income
and
employment.
Mass t
ourism in the Maldives is
still
concentrated around the atolls near to Male
and its infrastructure and resources
rely
entirely on rich and healthy reefs
. However, there is a significant increase in the amount of
licenses being offered to resort developers around the more southern atolls.
Th
e
Mamigili
(south Ari)
airport,
opened
in 2011,
has
allowed
for direct fligh
ts
to
access
more of
country for development
.
T
he remoteness of many reefs and their wide distribution make research and monitoring
work costly and difficult. The reefs that have been best studied are in the central areas of
North Male
, Ari and Addu atolls.
H
ealthy
reef areas
and ‘balanced’ fish populations
are
still found in many parts of the country
(particularly to the far south)
and many reef areas
remain unexplored.
Pressure from tourist industry development in more southern areas will
increase the foot
print of damage that has been widely recorded in more central atolls. With
increased development, there is a critical need for management
, and
for
ensuring
that
there are enough islands and reefs that remain ‘off limits’ to major commercial activities
.
The
re is enough ocean to accommodate people and wildlife in the Maldives, but the
country is currently failing to accommodate sustainable development.
Data from the
se and previous
Reef Check
coral reef surveys will be used at international,
regional and nat
ional levels to provide a ‘status report’ on the health of Maldivian reefs. At
the national level, it will be used to help make informed management and conservation
recommendations.
The expedition
aimed to take
detailed observations of encounters with whale
sharks when
they
were
encountered between reef survey locations.
Photographs of the gill areas of
whale sharks are being used by the
MWSRP to identify individuals in order
to record
presence / absence of
individual
whale sharks in the archipelago. Photos of the marki
ngs
in and around the gill / pectoral fin areas are unique (like a human fingerprint) for each
anim
al
, and over 200 individuals have been recorded so far
. The
MWSRP
can then match
one individual’s unique markings with the photographic record and add th
at image and the
whale shark’s location to their database
in order to
see if it has been recorded before and
if so
from where. This
allow
s
conservationists at the
MWSRP
to map
the movements of
individual sharks, how often they are recorded at indi
vidual locations and whether further
protection mechanisms are needed for individual hotspot locations.
Coral reef structures of the Maldiv
ian
archipelago are extraordinarily diverse and rich.
There are submerged coral mounds, often rising
within lagoons
50 m from the
seabed to
10 m from the surface (
thila
s), other mounds that reach the surface (giris)
,
and large
barrier reefs, which surround these structures on the perimeter of the atolls, some of which
are up to
40
km long
and plunge
t
o thousands
of metres
depth
a few hundred metres from
shore
. The islands of the Maldives are entirely mad
e from the coral sand washed up onto
the very shallowe
st coral platforms. More than 24
0 species of hard corals form the
framework of
a
complex coral community, from the shallow branching coral dominated
areas, to deeper systems of undercut caves and gullie
s dominated by soft corals and
invertebrates. Most coral communities in the central reefs of the Maldives
we
re still
recovering from the
mass
-
bleaching event of 1998,
prior to the 2016 bleaching event
(with
some intermittent bleaching)
.
R
ecovery
identified by our surveys
prior to 2016
has
been
reasonable
in m
any
inner atoll
reefs, with extensive recruitment and growth of branching
and table
Acropora
corals
even by 2005
many tables exceeded 3
m in diameter at reef
tops (
e.g.
Dega thilla; Diga thilla; Kudafalhu)
.
It is for this reason th
at our expedition has
regularly focused on assessing reef health in areas initially surveyed prior to the 1998
mass
-
bleaching event.
7
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
In order to
assess
a broad range of reef types, inner (giri
; thilla and house
) reefs, and the
outer slopes of
atoll
reefs
around Ari atoll
were surveyed
. This range of habitats
provided
a
useful understanding of the relative resilience of different reef types to
the warming event
of 2016
.
The fish populations of the Maldives are exceptionally rich in terms of diversity
, bu
t the
number, size
and biomass
of commercial species
has been
seriously impacted
particularly since the advent of mass
-
tourism
and export
ing
of grouper in the mid
-
1990s
.
The Maldivian government in 2008 banned shark fishing within the atolls and their
numbers appear to be increasing
as a result. S
mall reef sharks are still commonly
observed i
n Maldivian waters.
Inner
-
atoll
reefs are ‘fed’ by the channels between the outer
barrier reefs that punctuate this vast archipelago, where the diving can be exciting. The
unique location and geology of the Maldives also makes it a rich area for filter feeding
w
hale shark and manta rays,
major attractions
for those on board live
aboard dive trips.
Dives range from
thila
s
, farus in inner reefs
,
channel
walls
and slopes
, fore
-
and back
reefs, where gently sloping reefs are covered
by hard corals and the regionally abundant
black tube coral,
Tubastrea
. All of our survey dives are to a maximum 18 metre depth,
which
are
gener
ally the shallow
waters
that
provide the richest coral growth.
1.2. Research area
The Maldives or Mald
ive Islands, officially Republic of
Maldives, is an island country in the Indian Ocean formed
by a double chain of twenty
-
six atolls stretching in a north
-
south direction off India's Lakshadweep islands. The atolls
of the Maldives encompass a territory spr
ead over roughly
90,000 square km. It features 1,192 coral islands, of which
only about two hundred are inhabited.
Figure 1.2a.
Flag of the Maldives.
The Republic of Maldives' capital and largest city
is Male’, with a population of around
1
3
5
,000.
(Total popula
tion of the country is 350,000).
Trad
itionally
Male’
was the King's Island, from
where the ancient Maldiv
ian
royal dynasties ruled
and where the
royal
palace was located. The
Maldives is the smallest Asian country in
terms of
both population and area.
Over 2000 species of fish have so far been
catalogued, including reef sharks, moray eels
and a wide variety of rays such as manta rays,
stingrays and eagle rays. The Maldivian waters
are also home to the whale shark.
Sharks, turtles,
anemones, schools of sweetlips and jacks, eels,
octopus and ray
s are also found in Maldivian
waters.
To date at least 240
hard coral species have
been described from
57
genera. 51 species of
echinoderms, 5 species of sea grasses and 285
species of alga have also been identified.
Figure 1.2b.
The Maldives. An over
view of
Biosphere Expeditions’ research sites, assembly
points, base camp and office locations
can be found
at
Google Maps
.
8
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
1.3. Dates
201
6
:
9
15 July.
The expedition ran over a seven
-
day period with one group of
participants
. The group was
composed of a team of international research assistants, guides, support personnel and
a
n expedition leader (see below for team details).
1.4. Local conditions & support
Expedition base
The expedition was based on a modern four
-
deck, 115
-
f
oot
liveaboard boat, the MV Carpe
Vita
,
with ten air
-
conditioned cabins, an air
-
conditioned lounge and
an open
-
air dining
area. The boat was accompanied by a 55f
oot
diving dhoni (boat) with multiple
compressors, Nitrox and all facilities one would expect on a modern liveaboard. The crew
provided tank refills and dive services. A professional cook and crew
provided all meals.
Weather
The Maldives ha
s
a tropical and maritime climate with two monsoon seasons. The average
day
time
temperature during the expedition months was 28°C
,
with overcast days, and
occasional sunshine. Water temperature during the expedi
tion was 28
-
30°C.
Field communications
The
liveaboard
was equipped with radio and telephone communication systems. Mobile
phones worked in most parts of the study site
whilst
the boat was within the atolls.
The expedition leader also posted a multimedia
expedition on the Biosphere Expeditions’
social media sites such as
Facebook
,
Google+
and the
Wordpress blog
.
Transport & vehicles
Team members made their own way to the Male’ assembly point. From there onwards and
back to the assembly point all transport was provided for the expedition team,
including
expedition support an
d
any necessary
emergency evacuations.
Medical support and insurance
The expedition leader was a trained first aider and the expedition carried a comprehensive
medical kit. The main hospital is in Male’ city and
in addition
there are medical posts
i
n
man
y of the resorts. There is a recompression chamber on Bandos Island Resort near
Male’ and one on Ari Atoll.
Emergency and evacuation procedures were in place,
but did
not have to be invoked as there were no inciden
ts
, medical or otherwise.
9
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
1.5. S
cientist
Dr. Jean
-
Luc Solandt is a Londoner with a degree in Marine Biology from the University of
Liverpool. After graduating, he spent a year diving on the Great Barrier Reef assisting field
scientists in studies on fisheries and
on
the ecology of soft corals a
nd damselfish. He
returned to the UK and enrolled in a Ph.D. in sea urchin ecology in Jamaica, based both in
London and Jamaica. He went on to be an expedition science co
-
ordinator for projects in
Tanzania, the Philippines and Fiji, and is now undertaking
campaign and policy work in
planning and developing Marine Protected Areas in the UK. He has been the Reef Check
co
-
ordinator for the Maldives since 2005, and has thus far led
four
expeditions to
undertake surveys
on the islands. Jean
-
Luc has
1000
+
dives clocked up since he trained
to be a marine biologist
25
years ago.
1.6. Expedition leader
Kathy Gill is a founding member of Biosphere Expeditions and has been there since the
start in 1999. Kathy was born and edu
cated in England. Since gaining her BA in Business
at Bristol, she has worked in sustainable development and regeneration for a variety of
public sector organisations, most recently the Regional Development Agency for the East
of England where she was resp
onsible for developing and supporting partnership working
to establish sustainable development activities. At the main office Kathy is the
organisation's Str
a
tegy Adviser. She has travelled extensively, led expeditions and recced
projects all over the worl
d. She is a qualified off
-
road driver, divemaster, marathon runner,
keen walker, sailor, diver and all round nature enthusiast.
1.7. Expedition team
The expedition team was recruited by Biosphere Expeditions and consisted of a mixture of
ages, nationalit
ies and backgrounds. They were (in alphabetical order and with countries
of residence):
Jenan Alasfoor (Oman), Jonathan Chi
a (Singapore), Astrid
Därr (press,
Germany), Cassondra DeMolick (USA), Madhavi Denis (UAE), Fathimath Farah Amjad
(Maldives)*, Aminth
a Shaha Hashim (Maldives)*, Irthisham Hassan Zareer (Maldives)*, Ian
Hussain (Malaysia), Rajiv KP (India), Thomas Wai Hong Leun (China), Petra Lohse
(Malaysia), Arushad Mohamed (Maldives)*, Nicolas Thobois
(France), Jeff Wilson (USA),
Kate Wilson (USA), St
acie Wilson (USA), Taylor Wilson (USA).
*Participants marked with a star took part in the expedition as part of an education and
placement programme kindly supported by the
Rufford Foundation
via
LaMer
.
1.
8
. Other partners
On this project Biosphere Expeditions work
ed
with
Reef Check
, the Marine Conservation
Society, the Maldives M
arine Research Centre (MRC) of the Ministry of Fisheries and
Agriculture, the
MWSRP
,
the MV Carpe Diem
, LaMer
,
and the Rufford Foundation
.
Data
will
also
be used in collaboration with the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and the
University of York, which has a department of conservation. Our long
-
term dataset is not
only of interest
to conservationists working on monitoring the global status on reefs, such
as those from the United Nations Environment Programme,
the international Union for the
Conservation of Nature (
IUCN
)
,
the World Conservation Monitoring Centre and the
International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN), but more locally too, espec
ially
with
regard
to
the effectiveness of current Maldivian Marine Protected Areas in their ability to
protect and recover significant numbers and biomass of commercially impo
rtant finfish.
10
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
1.
9
. Expedition Budget
Each team member paid a contribution of
£1,
63
0 per seven
-
day slot
towards expedition
costs
. The contribution covered accommodation and meals, supervision and induction, all
maps and special non
-
personal equipment, all transport from and to the team assembly
point. It did not cover excess luggage
charges, travel insurance, personal expenses such
as telephone bills, souvenirs, etc.,
or
visa and other travel expenses to and from the
assembly point (e.g. international flights). Details on how these contributions were spent
are given below.
Income
£
Expedition contributions
2
0,890
Grants
4,600
Expenditure
Staff
includes local & international salaries, travel and expenses
2,690
Research
includes equipment and other research expenses
587
Transport
includes taxis and other local transport
12
Base
includes board, lodging and other live
-
aboard services
15,
2
77
Administration
includes some admin and misc costs
1
73
Team recruitment Maldives
as estimated % of PR costs for Biosphere Expeditions
6,
4
30
Income
Expenditure
3
21
Total
percentage spent directly on project
9
9
%
11
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
1.1
0
. Acknowledgements
This study was conduc
ted by Biosphere Expeditions, which runs wildlife conservation
expeditions all over the globe. Without our expedition team members (listed above) who
provided an expedition contribution and gave up their spare time to work as research
assistants, none of t
his research would have been possible. The support team and staff
(also mentioned above) were central to making it all work on the ground. Thank you to all
of you and the ones we have not managed to mention by name (you know who you are)
for making it all
come true. T
hank you also to Hussein Zahir of LaMer
, and
to
Shiham
Adam from MRC
for guidance and advice
,
and
to Agnes van Linden of the MV Carpe
Vita
for
keeping
an excellent live
-
aboard research base
running like clockwork
. Biosphere
Expeditions would al
so like to thank the Friends of Biosphere Expeditions for their
sponsorship and in
-
kind support. We thank the crew of the MV Carpe
Vita
for being such
excellent hosts. Thank you also to Richard Rees of the
MWSRP
.
Support from the Rufford
Foundation via LaM
er for the placement programme is
also
gratefully acknowledged.
1.1
1
. Further information & e
nquiries
More background information on Biosphere
Expeditions in general and on this expedition
in particular including pictures, diary excerpts and a cop
y of this report can be found on the
Biosphere Expeditions website
www.biosphere
-
expeditions.org
.
Copies of this and other expedition reports can
be accessed via at
www.biosphere
-
expeditions.org/reports
.
Enquires should be addressed to Biosphere Expeditions via
www.biosphere
-
expeditions.org/offices
.
12
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
Please note: Each expedition report is written as a stand
-
alone document that can be read
without having to refer back to previous reports. As such, much of this section, which
re
mains valid and relevant, is a repetition from previous reports, copied here to provide the
reader with an uninterrupted flow of argument and rationale.
2.
Reef Check
survey
2.1. Introduction and background
The Maldives comprises 1,190 islands lying wit
hin 26 atolls located in the middle of the
Ind
ian Ocean approximately 700 km s
outhwest of Sri Lanka and at the tip of a submerged
ridge (the Chagos
Maldives
Laccadive ridge), rising 3,000+ metres from the abyssal
plain to the surface, where they emerge
to form the atolls (see Figure 1.2
b
). The Maldives
covers approximately 90,000 km
2
, yet the land area covers less than 1% of this total
(Spalding
et al.
2001). Together, the Lakshadweeps and the Maldives constitute the
largest series of atolls and faroe
s
in the world (Riska and Sluka
2000).
The highest point of the islands is approximately 2.4 m as all the islands are naturally
made from fine coral sand. About 10% (200) of the islands are inhabited, with by far the
largest population living in Male’
-
the
capital. Of the
(approx.)
3
50
,00
0 population of the
nation,
over
1
3
0
,000 people live in the 1.8 km
2
of Male’, making it one of the most densely
populated urban areas on Earth (World Bank, 2010 figures).
The atoll lagoons range from 18 to 55 m d
eep and within these are a number of patch
reefs. Reef structures common to the Maldives include ‘thilas’ (submerged reefs with tops
from a few metres below the surface), smaller ‘giris’ and ‘faros’ (
the latter similar
to giris,
but ring
-
shaped reefs with
a central lagoon) (Figure 2.1a). The outer reefs that fringe the
atolls have the greatest expanse of coral growth, growing upwards and outwards towards
the incoming current, thereby acting as breakwaters of swell and tide. Dead coral material
from these at
olls and inner patch reef drifts to the leeward sides of the outer reefs. This
process of constant erosion of the reef material and deposition of sediments is responsible
for constructing the 1,190 islands of the archipelago. This natural dynamic process h
as
been altered by the numerous human habitations and stabilised to a degree by the
colonisation of many of the islands by natural vegetation.
Figure 2.1a.
Common reef structures of the Maldives (from Tim Godfrey).
13
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
The Maldives has two monsoon (wind
and current) seasons. The Northeast monsoon
brings in dry winds from the Asian continent that last between January and March. The
relatively wet
s
outh
-
westerly
monsoon runs from May to November.
Global warming may
have affected these seasonal trends in rec
ent years, with less clear discrepancy between
wet and dry seasons
.
T
he current direction
, however,
has remained relatively constant.
Air
temperature range
s
between about 31
°
C
and 21
°C
and varies little between seasons. The
monsoon currents have a key bear
ing on the distribution of pelagic planktivorous animals
across the archipelago. For example, Manta rays (
Manta birostris
)
are often found in the
sheltered sides of reefs relative to the incoming current, feeding on the plankton that drifts
to the leeward
side of the reef system (Anderson
et al
. 2011).
In terms of biodiversity, the Maldives atolls form part of the ‘Chagos Stricture’ and are an
important stepping
-
stone
between the reefs of the e
astern Indian Ocean and those of East
Africa (Spalding
et al
. 2
001). The fauna theref
ore comprises elements of both eastern and
w
estern assemblages. Diversity is high with
over 240
scleractinian corals, with maximum
diversity reported towards the south (towards Huvadhoo Atoll) (
Picheon and Bnezoni
2007,
Risk and Sluka
2000). Over 1,000 fish are recorded from the Maldives, a large
proportion of which are reef associated (Anderson
et al.
1998).
2.1.1. Fisheries
Tourism and fisheries are the two main generators of income for the Maldives. Most of the
finfish taken from
the Maldives are tuna (by weight) with
yellowfin and skipjack
dominating
the catch
,
with
lesser quantities
of bigeye also taken (Marine Stewardship Council
)
(Ahusan
et al
.
2016)
.
In
2010,
t
he
Maldives
government opened up
Maldiv
ian
waters to
domestic long
-
line
fishing, whilst excluding vessels from other nation
s (principally from Sri
Lanka)
1
. This was
in
reaction to the reduction in yellowfin catch by Maldivian
fishermen
recorded between 2005 (186,000 tonnes) and 2008 (117,000
tonne
s
)
2
, making trad
itional
pole
and
line fishing techniques
from larger vessels unprofitable.
Because of the historical
pole
and
line fishery
, the Maldivian tuna fishery has been marketed by many supermarkets
in the UK as sustainable, because the volume of catch taken by pole and line is relatively
small compared to many longline fisheries around the
Indian Ocean and there is minimal
by
-
catch of other fish, cetaceans and turtles.
But m
ajor fishing concessions offered by the
EU to surro
unding states in Arabia
and
Africa are denud
ing major stocks of bigeye,
skipjack and yellowfin
stocks that appeared healthy up to 2010
3
.
The Maldives
banned shark fishing
in
2010
, which can be regarded as a major
conservation measure because of the catastrophic declines in the global populatio
ns of
reef and pelagic predatory shark species (Graham
et al
. 2010). Although this is a
commendable measure undertaken by the Maldives government, it is very difficult to
enforce
without significant investment in water
-
borne vessels (although the Maldives
has a
relevant enforcement department called the ‘
Environment
al
Protection Agency’
, it is
woefully underfunded).
The ban on the export of shark products introduced in 2011 has
undoubtedly made it more difficult for Maldives
-
based fisher
men
to trade in shark parts
and anecdotal evidence from Maldives dive operators suggests that in some areas sharks
appear to be inc
reasing in number.
1
http://www.bluepeacemaldives.org/blog/biodiversity/long
-
line
-
fishery
-
controversy
-
maldives
2
http://minivannews.com/environment/cabine
t
-
approves
-
long
-
line
-
fishing
-
for
-
maldivian
-
vessels
-
5385
3
http://www.wwf.or.jp/eng/activities/2016/05/1320319.html
14
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
There has been a gro
wing demand for reef fish species in recent decades, partly because
of the expansion of the numbers of tourist resorts across the nation (Wood
et al.
2011)
but
primarily
because of the growth in the export market to the Far East, which is serviced by
group
er cages that have been set up within a number
of atolls. Wholesalers periodically
visit the grouper cages that are stocked by local fisher
men
in order
to buy the fish to export
live and fresh
-
chilled to foreign markets. A report by the Maldives Marine Res
earch Centre
(M
RC) in 2005 highlighted a declining catch since 1997, three years after the commercial
fishery started in 1994 (Sattar and Adams 2005). A further report by MRC in 2008 showed
that demand for reef fish had tripled in the last 15 years and tha
t a management
strategy
for grouper was needed to ensure sustainabl
e catches into the future.
Between 2009 and
2013,
MRC
work
ed
with the Marine Conservation Society to develop a management plan
for grouper.
Some of the recommendations from past reports, including pr
ovision to
increase the minimum landing sizes for some species into the grouper cages
/
for market
,
have met with resistance in some atolls. Given the small sizes of many species seen in the
wild as outlined
i
n
last year
s report
(Solandt and Hammer 201
5)
, i
t is regrettable that the
trajectory for the Maldives fishing out their grouper population as a viable commercial
species is a distinct possibility over the next 10 years.
2.1.2. Coral bleaching
Probably the most serious current threat to global coral re
efs is the effect that global
warming has by bleaching hard corals. Coral bleaching is the process by which corals
expel symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) from their tissues as
the
temperature rises for a
prolonged period above an ultimately lethal threshold
. Although the temperature threshold
at which corals bleach varies by region and coral type, the temperature threshold at which
corals become stressed in the Maldives is regularly cited as 30
0
C (Edwards et al.
2001).
The longer the corals are in contact w
ith elevated sea surface temperatures, the greater
the likelihood that the corals will bleach. And the longer the coral host is unable to re
-
acquire zooxanthellae, the greater the likelihood that the coral will die, as it gains most of
its energy from the
sugars produced by the algal cells within its tissues.
1997 and 1998
Reef Check
surve
ys and bleaching event
During April and May 1998 a temperature of over 32
0
C was recorded in the Maldives for a
period of more than four weeks
.
This led to mass bleachin
g down to at least 30 m
(Edwards
et al
. 2001). Shallow reef communities suffered almost complete mortality with
live coral cover of central reefs decreasing from about 42% to 2
%.
1997 and 1998
Reef Check
surveys were carried out by both Maldives Research Centre
staff (Zahir et al
. 1998)
and by local resort marine biologists. This stu
dy showed that the
principle families to bleach were the shallow
-
water
Acroporidae
and
Poci
lliporidae
. More
resilient corals included the
Agariciidae
and
Poritidae
families that form more massive
coral species. Other work
ers (e.g. Clark et al.
1999) found
that the coral cover in the range
of 22.5
-
70% pre
-
bleaching fell to 0
-
10% post bleaching
in many sites
.
A University of
British Columbia
4
survey (Hauert
et al.
1998) undertook extensive
Reef Check
surveys in
Angaga Island in June 1998,
three
months after the catastrophic bleaching event
, and
found that
80% of corals were dead and covered by fine filame
ntous algae.
4
http://www.math.ubc.ca/~hauert/publications/
ReefCheck
98/index.html
15
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
Since 2005
, Reef Check surveys have observed
few large reef building corals
and a much
higher proport
ion of faster growing
Acroporidae
and
Poc
illoporid
ae
. This suggests there
has been patchy recovery due to recruitment of new
,
more ephemeral corals, rather than
recovery from survival and re
-
growth of older colonies
,
which
recovered zooxanthellae
immediately after the warming event
.
Longer term effects of such catastrophic bleaching were said to include erosion of dead
coral skeletons to sand and rubble
, which in turn
led to less
buffering of wave action
around the atolls, leading to beach erosion
a huge potential cost to the Maldives.
Many
recent years of surveys by our expeditions have identified rubble slopes around 10
-
15
m in
some of the more sheltered reefs. We believ
e these are predominantly made up of corals
that died during the 1998 bleaching event and have been broken down by subsequent
wave action and the boring action of worms and bivalves
(Solandt and Hammer 2013)
.
Under gravity, they fall to the lower reaches o
f the reef.
Biosphere Expeditions
and MCS
undertook the first ‘bleaching recovery’ surveys in 2012,
and found that the reefs of Ari atoll were generally recovering well, from the outer channel
reefs of the north east, to the inner south central house reefs (incl
uding those at Angaga
Island in the centre of the atoll) (Solandt et al. 2013).
Surveys carried out in September
2015
found many sites to be affected by storms, leading to
breakage
of corals and
damage to shallow and deeper reefs
. Ari was considered to hav
e been less affected
by the
1998 bleaching event than
reefs nearer the capital, at Male’ atoll
(
Zahir,
personal
communication
)
During this expedition
seven sites
were surveyed
(see Fig. 2.2a):
t
he
training site at Baros Maldives, Rasdhoo Madivaru, Bathaala
a maagaa, Kud
afalhu
,
Dega
thilla, Angaga Island,
Holiday
thilla and Dhigurah Wall
to the south of the atoll.
The 2015/2016 El Ni
ñ
o /
b
leaching event
The El
Ni
ñ
o
of 2015/2016 was the second
-
largest bleaching event on record for the
Maldives since the 199
8 bleaching event. Large tracts of Indian Ocean reefs bleached
over the period of March
May 2016 (see Fi
g. 2.1.2a
). Prior to this the bleaching event
was more p
rofound over the reefs of Asia (
Thailand, Malaysia,
Indonesia
and the
Philippine archipelago
)
.
22%
of t
he reefs of the Great Barrier Reef were very seriously
bleached and the wider Pacific Ocean saw bleaching throughout most of 2015.
Seawater temperatures were recorded by colleagues at
Baros Maldives
throughou
t the
2016 bleaching event. They recorded the temperatures at their house reef on the island
from April to May 2016.
Table 2.1.2a.
S
urface seawater temperatures (S
ST
)
recorded at Baros Maldives from
1
April through to 26 May 2016.
Temperature degrees C
5
m
10
m
15
m
20
m
1
-
Apr
30
30
29
29
7
-
Apr
30
30
29
29
14
-
Apr
31
30
30
30
21
-
Apr
32
31
30
30
28
-
Apr
32
32
31
31
5
-
May
32
32
31
31
12
-
May
31
30
30
30
19
-
May
30
30
30
30
26
-
May
30
30
30
30
16
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
Figure 2.1.2a.
Coral b
leaching
coincided
with a warm
water ‘pulse’ that moved from south to north over the islands between April and May 2016
(Data fr
om NOAA)
.
17
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
2.1.4.
Other
threats to Maldives reefs
Maldives reefs are under threat from both local anthropogenic and global climate
-
induced
pressures. Key threats are:
Climate change,
& associated sea surface temperature
increases leading to coral
bleaching
(from human caused increases in CO
2
concentration)
.
Increased atmospheric CO
2
concentration that results in seawater acidification. This
leads to decreased skeleta
l strength of calcium carbonate
-
dependent corals,
decreased growth rate, and decreased reproductive output
of corals
.
Over
fishing of keystone species (e.g. predators of Crown of Thorns Starfish and
herbivorous fish).
Sedimentation and inappropriate atoll
development.
Poor water treatment.
2.1.5. Governance and management issues
There are a number of governance, socio
-
economic and political issues within the
Maldives that reduce the ability of local, atoll and national management of these pressing
issue
s. Perhaps paradoxically, the
recent past
ha
d
seen the Maldives embark on a
process to establish
more
Marine Protected Areas
(MPAs)
, and to lobby for decreases in
global CO
2
emissions.
Currently
there is a push to develop more islands for tourism.
There
is a chasm between the understanding of political leaders in what constitutes good
resource management (e.g. the establishment of MPAs on paper)
that ‘service’ to the
economy
and the requirements
and measures
to make them work
for both biodiversity
and
local
communities. This is a problem i
n the UK as much as it is in the Maldives, and
requires extensive interaction between community
-
based scientists
/
practitioners
and
government officials
at the highest levels. Only with this investment
from local
individuals being empowered to report on
declines, and necessary management
implementation (and enforcement), will nations start to recover biodiversity where it has
been damaged, and preserve it where it has remained in a good condition during the last
50 years of rapid population expansion. Re
asons for poor investment in a working
programme to recover Maldives reefs include:
1.
Political
in
stability
-
The Maldives has been through a number of considerable political
changes in the past
five
years, reducing
the chance that
a cohere
nt marine cons
ervation
strategy
will be treated as a priority
;
2. E
conom
ic decline
-
The economy has suffered in recent years
,
leading to a decreased
investment in marine science, manage
ment and conservation;
3.
Heavy dependence on a carbon
-
based economy
-
Despite the
Maldives lobbying at
international Climate Change Congress meetings for reduced CO
2
output on a global
scale, there is a heavy reliance from Maldives business
es
on international flights,
expensive marine transport of goods and
people
, and a tourist indust
ry that
generates
large amounts of
c
arbon
.
18
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
4.
Rapid environmental degradation that is not being adequately reported
-
The
health
of
Maldiv
ian
reefs has d
eclined
steeply
over the past 30 years since the 1998 bleaching
eve
nt through
the
introduction of mass
-
tou
rism, increased global
(and local tourist)
markets in reef fisheries resources
,
and increased infrastructure
development. This has
degraded the
natural capital of the islands
and the reefs that support local and tourist
islands. There has been expansion in
resource exploitation to meet
the
demand
s of an
increased human / tourist
population without concurrent precautionary management.
This
costs money, and the cost
s
should be met (but are not) by the developers
who
are
benefitting from the use of the Maldive
s
this is effectively the tourist industry.
5.
Education regarding the balance of extraction and protection
-
Many successful
measures adopted by natural resource users offer a fallow/closed system where resources
are protected for some
years
before bein
g exploited. This offers natural systems to
increase the biomass and abundance of previously exploited species. These species can
either be exploited in previously selected ‘fallow’ areas, or permanently protected to
ensure spill
-
over of fish from protecte
d areas to fished grounds, and increased larval
export. However, these measures are often difficult to put into place on the ground,
particularly if education and awareness of such measures is not part of the national
curriculum.
6.
Inade
quate investment
in enforcement
-
There is a government agency directly
responsible
for
the enforcement of current marine conservation efforts
the Environmental
Protection Agency. However, this department is funded directly from
the
government’s
own resources
and
,
as pri
ority spending is on other social concerns (such as waste
management, island creation and housing), there
are few
resource
s
available for
enforcement of the 25+ Maldivian MPAs. Enforcement is undervalued as a net contributor
to the nation’s wealth, because
economic returns from such
an
investment are not easily
apparent
. This is
a
global
problem for
countries such as
the Maldives
and
also for
the
UK
.
In
recent years
the Maldives has lacked a
political
champion for the protection and
recovery of marine resources.
Up until five years ago
the Maldives government
was
making very well
-
intended statements to reverse this trend. In June 2012, Dr Mariyam
Shakeela,
(then)
Minister for Environment and Energy announced a programme of work
between
2013 and 2
017 in order to achieve UNESCO Biosphere R
eserve status for the
entire nation.
According to this plan, a
t least half the atolls of the nation will
need to
implement marine conservation efforts similar to that of Baa atoll
.
There is not a strategy
that is being met by the Maldives agencies tasked with dealing with this
such as the EPA
or MRC, because
the
government does not
invest
sufficiently
to effectively implement this
on a national basis. Indeed,
since Biosphere
Expeditions
started working in the Maldives in
2011,
cuts to the MRC have seen drastic reductions in its staff, and the monitoring team
that existed since 2009 has been effectively disbanded.
R
egular
monitoring of sites that
informed the international community of the health status of Maldives reefs is now only
undertaken by outside agencies (such as IUCN and Biosphere Expeditions).
But m
any
Maldiv
ian
citizens have strong scepticism towards western co
nservation work in their
islands
, which
is likely
to be
as a result of ‘foreign’ conservation efforts being considered
alongside unsustainable foreign investment in the tourist industry that is at odds with the
cultural norms
and indeed, the environmenta
l limits
of the nation. This is not ideal,
because conservation projects for the Maldives
will
have to seek investment from foreign
trust and grant foundations for long
-
term (decadal scale) monitoring programmes.
19
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
It is not easy to ‘sell’ long term monito
ring projects
to
funders who like to see ‘new’
projects, and want to see short
-
term results.
Biosphere Expeditions surveys are carried out on an annual basis, to record conditions at
permanent monitoring sites in North Male’ and Ari atolls, and to undert
ake bleaching
recovery surveys. They are relatively cost
-
effective
as fee
-
paying volunteers and external
funding (from the Rufford Foundation) helps
to
support the work. B
ut in order to really
expand the reach of knowledge of reefs, and their status, we ne
ed many more Maldivians
to progress Reef Check
-
style projects, which is why Biosphere Expeditions has a
placement programme with the aim of seeding community
-
based monitoring programmes.
2.1.6. Maldives reef surveys
In order to help the Maldives in faci
ng up to some of these issues, Biosphere
Expeditions
and the
Marine Conservation Society have been developing a survey and training
programme. Our aims are to:
Increase the information base on the status of Maldiv
ian
re
efs in collaboration with
local
part
ners (e.g. the MRC
/ MWSRP / MDA
).
B
uild capacity in local marine management and resource assessment.
Provide educational resources at
key sites around the Maldives.
C
ollaborate with environmentally
-
sensitive tourism operators and resorts in
undertaking
reef protection measures, and reef survey assessments.
In order to undertake this we have:
Undertaken
Reef Check surveys at over 26 sites in four years, compiled and
quality
-
assessed the data, and sent it to Maldivian and international coral reef
monito
ring programmes.
Trained eight
individuals employed in government marine resource assessment
surveys
, NGOs
and from the tourist and diving industry whilst
on liveaboard
expeditions. We hav
e also undertaken training of 10 individuals (private
consultants,
resort marine biologists and MRC staff) at the Marine Research Centre
in Male
in September 2012.
D
esigned, printed and distributed (with the ‘Live and Learn’ Foundation) over 500
guides on the effectiveness of coral reef conservation to school
children.
U
ndertaken training in resorts and with local dive operations and have collaborated
with resorts to train staff, and provide them with reef resources.
20
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
Aims of the 201
6
surveys and training using Reef Check
The 201
6
surveys were carried out specificall
y at Ari Atoll sites that have been repetitively
surveyed, last so in 201
5
,
in order to
Record
the impact
of bleaching in this El Ni
ñ
o year.
Carry out effort
-
based transects of the South Ari Marine Protected area reef for
whale sharks.
Undertake Reef
Check Trainer training for t
hree
local people
Irthisham Hassan
Zareer
, Arushad Mohamed
and Farer
Fathimath
.
Irthisham was
being trained as a
Reef Check EcoDiver T
rainer to allow her to train other Maldivians in Reef Check.
Reef Check
has been carrying
out volunteer dive surveys since 1997
-
the International
Year of t
he Reef (Hodgson 1999). It was designed to vastly increase the amount of
information of the health status of the world’s coral reefs in the absence of funding and
manpower to mobilise enoug
h reef scientists to carry out surveys themselves. It has
successfully increased the capacity to record the health (and changing health) of reefs and
their natural resources (Hodgson and Liebeler 2002).
It has been used
in developing
countries
by tourists,
but more importantly, has led to increased capacity amongst local
populations to record the condition of their own reefs.
Reef surveys have been carried out in the Maldives by Marine Research Centre staff for
over 10 years (before and after the bleachi
ng event of 1998) (Zahir
et al.
2005), but the
opportunity to undertake resea
rch on board the extensive live
aboard and tourist islands of
the country has not been fully realised. MCS has been carrying out
Reef Check
surveys
with liveaboards since 2005 and
trained
staff at
the
Baros Maldives resort in
Reef Check
survey techniques in 2010. However, training and surveying
was
fairly piecemeal up until
2010, only providing data from a few survey locations (Solandt et al.
2009).
Reef Check
requires surveys to be
carried out over relatively flat (<45 degree slope) reef profiles in
areas of limited current at between 3 m and 12 m. This limitation often excludes surveys at
the most well
-
known dive sites of the Maldives that tend to be in waters too deep or
charged b
y currents too dangerous to carry out safe line
-
transect
Reef Check
surveys.
D
edicated
sur
vey trips aboard Maldivian liveaboard vessels, such as th
e ones carried out
by Biosphere Expeditions for the purpose of this study, are necessary to realise
fully the
potential to gather data from a greater range of sites.
2.1.6. Planning & methods
Biosphere Expeditions carries
out
l
ogistics, health and safety on board the
research
vessel
,
and recruitment of
volunteers. The scientific programme, training a
nd data
collection and analysis
was
led by
Dr Jean
-
Luc Solandt
and
Shaha Hashim
,
Reef Check
Course Director and Reef Check Trainer respectively
.
All training was carried out on board the MV Carpe
Vita during the first
three
days of the
expedition
. In
-
wate
r training was undertaken at Baros
Maldives
house reefs in southern
North Male’ atol
l.
21
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
The methodology used was the internationally accredited
Reef Check
method.
Reef Check
involves three recording teams at each site visited. The first team undertakes a s
low swim
to record fish populations. The second team undertakes invertebrate and impact surveys.
The final buddy pair records the substrate categories. Surveys were carried out at three
depths on this expedition: shallow (2
-
5 m)
,
intermediate (6
-
8 m) and d
eep (10
-
12 m). At all
locations a site form was filled in before the divers entered the water, with information on
the site, conditions, location and use of the site.
Species, families and categories recorded (so
-
called indicator species) are determined b
y
Reef Check
scientists and advisors because (1) the species or group are of commercial
importance (e.g. grouper), (2) the species or group is an ecological ‘keystone species’
serving a vital function to maintaining a healthy reef (e.g. parrotfish), or (3)
the species or
group of species are indicators of a declining status of the health of the reef. For example
nutrient indicator algae (NIA) abundance on the substrate survey can indicate two things
either nutrient loading in the system or that grazing pa
rrotfish / urchins are low in number.
In addition
divers on all surveys record the presence / absence of sharks, manta rays,
cetaceans, turtles and other unusual megafauna.
Major habitat types and abbreviations used are HC (hard coral), SC (soft cor
al),
RKC
(recently killed coral
-
corals killed within approximately the past year),
NIA (nutrient
indicating algae
-
predominantly fleshy macroalgae that are nutrient limited such as
Lobophora
),
SP (sponge), RC (rock), RB (rubble), SD (sand), SI (silt), OT
(ot
her, such as
cnidarians, zooanthids).
2.2. Results
Sites surveyed
Sites surveyed in the 2016 expedition were a mixture of inner atoll sites (thillas and giris)
and outer reef walls and slopes. Sites were selected on the basis that Biosphere
Expeditions
and MCS had surveyed these areas since 2005 (Rasdhoo) and 2008 (Dega
thilla), thus giving a longer
-
term perspective to the data of reefs that had recovered since
the 1998 bleaching event.
The expedition
also
set out
to understand any differences in
pattern
s between the more sheltered inner atoll reefs with lesser water circulation and
depth, and the outer reefs
,
which are adjacent to much greater water depths.
Table 2.2a.
Site names and locations.
For numbers see Figure 2.2a below.
Site name
Latitude
Long
itude
Inner or outer reef
Baros Maldives*
4 16 59.4 N
73 25 40.2 E
Inner
1.
Rasdhoo Madivaru
4 15.947 N
73 0.17 E
Outer
2.
Bathaalaa
4 3.34 N
75 57.41 E
Outer
3.
Kudafalhu
4 1.052 N
72 48.311 E
Inner
4.
Dega thilla
3 50.665 N
72 45.083 E
Inner
5.
Hol
iday thilla
3 29 40.56 N
72 49 21.85 E
Inner
6.
Dhigurah Wall
3 30 57.54 N
72 55 6.11 E
Outer
*Training site.
22
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
Figure
2.2a.
Central Maldives atolls with the location of training (Baros Maldives
black star) and surveys (red stars):
1
Rasdhoo Madiv
aru; 2
Bathaalaa maagaa; 3
Kudafalhu; 4
Dega thila; 5
Holiday thilla; 6
Dhigurah Wall.
23
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
Baros Maldives recorded the bleaching at their house reef (Table 2.2b). As with other
bleaching events, the
Acropora
genera was more susceptible to bleaching i
n initial phases.
Table
2.2b.
I
mmediate bleaching impacts
on coral populations
(
as recorded by staff at
Baros Maldives
)
.
N
otes on coral bleaching
Date
SST in
ºC
@
(5/15
m)
5
m
10
m
15
m
20
m
1 April
20
16
30 / 29
F
irst sign porites
and acropora
(stag
horn, table)
are "stressed"
F
irst sign porites
and acropora
(staghorn, table)
are "stressed"
ok
ok
14
April
20
16
31 / 30
F
irst signs porites
(and acropora
staghorn, table)
are bleaching
F
irst signs porites
and acropora
(staghorn, table)
are bleachin
g
F
irst sign porites
and acropora
(staghorn, table)
are "stressed"
F
irst sign porites
and acropora
(staghorn, table)
are "stressed"
28
April
20
16
32 / 31
60
-
80% porites
and acropora
(staghorn, table)
are bleached 30
-
40% are white
30
-
40% porites
and acrop
ora
(staghorn, table)
are bleached 10
-
20% are white
20
-
30% porites
and acropora
(staghorn, table)
are bleached
10
-
20% porites
and
acropora
(staghorn, table)
are bleached
12
May
20
16
31 / 30
80% porites and
acropora
(staghorn, table)
are white
40
-
50% pori
tes
and acropora
(staghorn, table)
are bleached 20
-
30% are white
30
-
40% porites
and acropora
(staghorn, table)
are bleached 10
-
20% white
30
-
40% porites
and acropora
(staghorn, table)
are bleached 10
-
20% white
26
May
20
16
30 / 30
40% porites and
acropora
(staghorn, table)
are white
50% are with algae
overgrown
20% porites and
acropora
(staghorn, table)
are bleached 10
-
20% are white 10
-
20% are with algae
overgrown
10% porites and
acropora
(staghorn, table)
are bleached 20%
are white 5
-
10%
are with alga
e
overgrown
20 % porites and
acropora
(staghorn, table)
are bleached 10%
are white
Coral populations showed a stress response as early as 1 April 2016. Underlying and
long
-
term temperatures recorded at Baros Maldives are often at 28/29 degrees when
monit
oring occurs (typically March) (2010
-
28 degrees, 2011
-
28 degrees,
201
2
-
29
degrees, 2014
-
29 degrees). It is notable that a 1
-
2 degree rise in temperature
above this
high mean value
elicits bleaching. This could mean that corals are al
ways on the bri
nk of
bleaching. Corroborating
evidence
for this is that
Biosphere
Expeditions
Reef Check
training
at this site
has
always recorded
one or two
bleached
colonies
at
most sites during
most years.
There is further evidence that depth is a major factor in the
effect of bleaching,
with the majority of the living coral population below 10
-
15
m showing no impacts of
bleaching at all. The ble
aching ‘event’ lasted at least six
weeks in total, with the most
serious stress occurri
ng over a four week period (14 April
to 12 May 2016)
enough to
stress
and kill many colonies.
24
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
Individual sites and overall picture of bleaching compared to historic (10 year) baseline.
T
he bleaching event, and apparent reduction in coral cover as a result of bleaching
,
were
compared
to t
he historic baseline ‘health’ of the live hard coral community between 2005
and 2015
(the duration of
recording at various perma
nent monitoring sites
)
(Fig. 2.2b).
Figure
2.2.b.
Coral bleaching impacts on the coral population at five sites in July 2016
, two months after the warming
event in May. *Baros Maldives data
were
recorded during the bleaching event in May 2016.
25
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
Figure
2.2b
shows that the outer reef sites
Rasdhoo and Bathalaa maagaa
-
had higher
combined
coral cover and bleached coral cover r
emaining after the bleaching event than
the inner reef sites of Dega, Holiday and Kuda fahlu. Added to Dhigurah Wall, a side
facing the ocean on the southern part of Ari atoll, there is a clear trend of inner atoll reefs
being more seriously affected by th
e warm
waters than outer reefs (Table 2.2c, Fig. 2.2c
).
Table 2.2c.
Summary data of
%
coral cover and bleached coral cover inside and outside atoll rim reefs during the July
2016 surveys.
Site
(% cover)
Bathalaa
maagaa
Rasdhoo
Dhigurah
Wall
Dega thilla
Holiday
thilla
Kudafalhu
Inner/outer
Outer
Inner
reefs
Bleached
8.13
7.5
5
2.81
1.56
0.31
Hard coral
30.9
34
7.19
3.75
Mean
hard
coral
cover
7.40
Figure 2.2c
.
Mean % hard coral and bleached hard coral cover from inner
and outer r
eefs visited during
2016 surveys.
26
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
Table 2.2d
.
Observations on reef colonis
ation at inner and outer reefs, July 2016.
Inner reef
Outer reef
Dega thilla
Rasdhoo Madivaru
Kudafalhu
Bathalaa maagaa
Angaga thilla
Dhigurah Wall
Summary ob
servations:
Large amounts of thicker algal turf, macroalgae
(particularly at Angaga and Holiday thilla). ‘Other’
lifeforms such as
Discosoma
carpet anemone
(corallimorph
s) were dominant at Dega t
hilla.
Opportunities for colonis
ation by coral recruits are
currently low, because of the lack of free space
on
clean rock. Herbivory is essential to allow coral
recruitment.
Summary observations:
Partial to low bleaching of massive hard corals,
particularly of
Poritidae
. Partial bleaching over
Acropora
colonie
s in add
ition. There is low turf
colonis
ation of bleached/dead corals, with
macroalgae absent. There is considerable ‘free
space’ for coral recruitment.
27
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
Bent
hic species and lifeform colonis
ation
There is considerable evidence that reefs do better post
-
b
leaching with lower amounts of
nutrient indicator algae / macroalgae and thick algal turfs. Inner reefs have approximately
29% ‘rock’ and about 10% hard coral. This means that only about 40% of the substrate i
s
immediately able to be colonised by recruitin
g corals
and that present conditions mean
that the reefs can only partially recover.
Scenarios
that could enable change are
:
conditions l
ess conducive to algal growth
,
and
:
an increased availability of ‘free space’
i.e. clean rock. Herbivory (grazing of
algal lifeforms) and low nutrient availability is
essential for pre
-
bleaching conditions and coral recruitment to be able to occur. In some
reefs (such as Holiday Thilla and Angaga housereef) conditions are extremely poor for
coral regeneration with an ave
rage of 31% and 33% macroalgal / NIA cover. Also the reef
at Dega thilla has 45%
Discosoma
cover of corallimorphs.
Other reefs that have exhibited
such a change in state to corallimorphs from corals have been described in reefs almost
totally unaff
ected by
pollution (Work et al.
2008).
The evidence from these dives suggests that
those
reefs with
a
relatively high cover of
algae and corallimorphs are in the balance
they could become coral dominated again,
with good recruitment and herbivory, or they cou
ld move further towards a non
-
coral life
-
state. This phenomenon is called a ‘phase shift’
(Hughes
1994)
. This is where the
ecosystem moves from one
state to another. Concerning to ecologists, reef managers,
dive operators and the Maldives as a whole
,
is wh
ere this ‘shift’ becomes ecologically
stable. This happens whe
n
a number of chronic and short
-
term factors come into play that
reduce coral cover and boost other lifeforms.
Table 2.2e.
Chronic and short
-
term impacts to reefs that enable a shift from a co
ral to non
-
coral state. Note the
bleaching state moving from short
-
term to chronic.
Factor
Chronic (low or high impact)
Short
-
term (low or high impact)
Hurricanes / cyclones / storms
X (high)
Temperature induced bleaching
X (high)
Disease
X (low
Maldives)
Acidification
X (unknown)
Pollution
X (unknown)
X (moderate)
Crown of Thorns outbreaks
X (high)
Historical perspective
The Maldives is at a critical state in time, with many reefs over the past 18 years chang
ing
from a coral
-
dominated to a non
-
coral dominated state. Some reefs surveyed by
Biosphere
Expeditions and
MCS since the major 1998 bleaching event are no longer true
‘coral’ ree
fs
and are dominated by non
-
corollaceous lifeforms. Adhureys reef (surveyed i
n
2005), Deh giri (surveyed in 2012) and Dega thilla (first surveyed in 2007) have large
(and
in the case of Dega thilla, increasing)
tracts of the substrate dominated by corallimorphs
(
Discosoma
). Given the state of the central atoll reefs surveyed during the 2016 surveys,
conditions are pushing mor
e reefs to attain this ‘phase shift’ s
tate, where recovery to a
coral
-
dominated assemblage is unlikely. Outer reefs fare much better, both historically,
and during recent surveys.
28
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-
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-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
Many of the impacts within Table
2.2e are entirely natural
and can be recor
ded thr
ough the
fossil record (e.g. Crown
-
of
-
Thorns
outbreaks
/ storms
). But the synergistic and more
pers
istent nature of these threats,
and the
ir
more regular occurrence makes reefs much
more threatened than ever before. For example, the storms and increased wave
action
during recent Reef Check surveys has been understood to be a cause of shallow
-
water
coral damage at western sites in the archipela
go in 2015 (Afzal
et al.
2015
; Solandt et al.
2016
). More recent research has also shown that corals persistently stressed at their
upper t
hermal tolerances are less able to withstand disease, and are more susceptible to a
wider range of infection by pathogens (
Tkachenko et al. 2007,
Ateweberhan et al.
2013
).
More regular warming events wi
ll
further threaten the coral communities of the Maldi
ves
and where nutrients are available from anthropogenic sources, it may be that
corallimorphs
, sponges a
nd algae
may outcompete seabed space after future di
sturbance
events (Kuguru et al.
2004)
.
Fish populations
Fish populations
have
n
o
t significantly changed
in the Maldives
sites we
visited
in Ari atoll
since 2005
(Figs. 2.2d & e
). There are
plentiful numbers of both benthic and planktonic
feeding butterflyfish, with a large abundance of planktiviorous butterflyfish at the outer reef
s
ites (such as Rasdhoo Madivaru) and
channel reefs.
S
ites
with lower coral cover
(Kudafalhu and Angaga thilla) have
lower
numbers of butterflyfish,
which
can be an
indication of low
-
quality habitat
and feeding areas for these species. Many butterflyfish
species are invertivores wi
th specific requirements of habitat to survive. Another family
the
P
ommacentridae
do better (in terms of abundance and biomass rather than diversity)
when reefs are dominated by algal turfs. Commercial species such as sweetlips
(
Plectorhincus
) are low in
numbers, with a single individual seen at most sites. At
Rasdhoo, there used to be greater number of both sweetlips and horse
-
eye jack
,
both
recorded on and off transect
in 2005
. These animals are now increasingly rare
at the site
.
Snapper (
Lutajnidae
) ar
e reasonably common, but not abundant. Larger species such as
the midnight and black and white snapper ar
e missing from almost all sites
and numbers
at Rasdhoo Madivaru have declined since 2005 when the site was first surveyed.
Grouper have been earmarke
d within the Reef Check survey as an important commercial
species that indicate overfishing. Numbers in this year
s survey rema
in low, although an
average of one or two
individuals were recorded both at the deeper part of Rasdhoo
Madivaru, and at Holiday
t
hilla (Fig. 2.2e
). These are of individuals of a minimum of 30
cm
a
small size for
most dominant, large
-
growing
grouper
species (such as the marbled
groupers of the
Epinephalidae
and ‘coral trout’ species of the
Plectropomidae
)
.
All this
indicates c
onsistent overfishing and p
revious
expedition
reports
(all available via
www.biosphere
-
expeditions.org/reports
)
have recommended minimum landing sizes for
grouper in line with
The Darwin Reef Fish Project
5
. This was a collaboration
between the
Marine Research Centre and the Marine Conservation Society between 2009 and 2014
that set specific management recommendations for the fishery of these high
-
value fish
.
I
t
is
now
extremely
rare to record grouper greater than 40
cm size.
S
ome of the larger
subfamilies such
as
Ep
ineph
a
lidae
are
now
absent from
shallow
reefs
we survey
,
particularly at larger sizes
.
5
http://www.mrc.gov.mv/assets/Uploads/February
-
2014
-
Current
-
Stat
us
-
of
-
the
-
Reef
-
Fisheries
-
of
-
Maldives
-
and
-
Recommendations
-
for
-
Management.pdf
29
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
As these species are broadcast spawners, low numbers and sizes will
compromise
regeneration of populations within central atolls, unless animals
occur
in
large numbers in
the
deep
er areas of reefs beyond t
he survey depth of Reef Check, which is unlikely.
Importance of
herbivores
on reefs
.
Large abundances of herbivores are
extremely important
to enable reefs to be in good
condition after a bleaching event
(Hughes et al., 1997)
. Herbivorou
s fish of the parrotfish
and surgeonfish family are vital for keeping the reef clear of thick algal turfs and
macroalgae that stop the re
-
colonisation of hard corals. The parrotfish numbers and sizes
within the Maldives appear stable, although numbers appe
ar to be greater on the healthier
outer reefs than the inner reefs from these surveys (Fig.
2.2d
).
Figure 2.2d.
Reef fish populations at Maldives reefs in 2016.
Figure 2.2e.
Grouper populations (at sizes <30
cm) at Maldives reefs in 2016.
30
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
Inverte
brate populations
Invertebrate populations show dom
inance of giant clams and Crown
-
of
-
Thorns
(COT)
starfish. The COT dominance comes principally from only two sites
Angaga housereef
(2.7 animals/100
m
2
) and Kudafalhu (14.3 animals/100
m
2
) (Fig. 2.2f
).
B
oth sites
have
been severely affected by bleaching (2016) and storms (2015) in recent years, with
associated low coral cover. It would appear that the COTs are feeding on the last
re
maining hard corals available.
Numbers of COTs over 30 per hectare constit
ute an
outbreak ac
cording to past research (Dixon
1996), so the numbers being observed in the
Maldive
s in recent years is a concern
and constitute significant outbreaks at both Angaga
and Kudafalhu (as numbers equate to 270 per hectare at Angaga, and 1430
per hectare at
Kudafalhu
)
. The numbers at Kudafalhu represent 1.4 x the highest numbers recorded
during the
devastating outbreaks at the Great Barrier Reef (Dixon 1996).
Greater numbers of
Diadema
urchins would provide considerable grazing impact that
wou
ld convert much of the inner reef algae into rock
, which
c
an subsequently be colonis
ed
by coral recruits.
However, urchin numbers
are very low, particularly compared to other
Indo
-
Pacific locations such as the Persian Gulf (Musandam) reefs, where numbers i
n
excess of 100 individuals/100
m
2
are commonly recorded. At these densities,
Diadema
actually act as a significant bioeroder of reef material, as they graze below the algal turf
fringe,
which
can lead to collapse of the living coral framework in shallow w
ater habitats.
The great difference in
Diadema
numbers between
these
different
regions is not well
understood, but may relate to predation pressure in areas with more predatory fish (e.g.
humphead wrasse, titan triggerfish), availability of
shelter, nutrie
nts in the water
and the
availability of plankton
(Young and Bellwood 2012)
.
Figu
re 2.2f.
Numbers of different invertebrates recorded on the dives.
C
rown
-
of
-
thorns
numbers were recorded from two inner reef sites where live hardcoral cover was low (<5
%).
31
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
Other i
mpacts
Impacts beyond bleaching
were
relatively limited
on
the reefs survey
ed
. Most
incidents
of
damage are caused by
Drupella
gastropods feeding from deep with
in
the corals of
branching
Acropora
colonies. W
here coral reefs exhibit high coral c
over, with good water
quality and limited predation by COT starfish, such grazing pressure by these animals is
no
t a significant factor. However, where reefs have already been denuded by the chronic
and shor
t
-
term impacts listed in Table 2.2e
, pressure fro
m
Drupella
grazing is more
consequential.
Figure
2.2g
.
Other impacts observed by the expedition.
Surveys by Gemana
NGO and
Maldives Whaleshark Research Project at Dhigurah
In a positive development arising out of the Biosphere Expeditions placement
programme
that trains local Maldivian in Reef Check, a
pre
-
bleaching survey was carried out by an all
-
Maldivian
community
-
based
Reef
Check team on
11 March
2016 at Coral Gardens, north
of Dhi
g
urah Island, the base of the Maldives Whaleshark Research Projec
t. This
survey
is
an interesting addition to the monitoring dataset, as this reef is a back
reef, dominated by
staghorn corals. As such it
will
be
susceptible to coral bleaching
and should be monitored
again to reveal the extent of the bleaching damage to
the site.
The team undertaking the surveys were: Aminath Shaha Hashim (Reef Check team
leader), Naushad Mohamed, Arushad Mohamed, Ali Sobah, Moamed Adam, Hassan
Hameez and Saamee Mohamed and Irthisham Zareer.
32
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
Figure 2.2h.
L
ocation of Dhigurah Is
land (
red star on right image
) and the ‘coral gardens’ site (yellow pin on the northern edge of the shallow lagoon).
33
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
Typical habitat and species at coral gardens:
The habitat was typical of a back
reef environment with branching and table corals. The
div
e was undertaken at a single depth
6m. The fish populations
included
one
sweetlip
s
per replicate, an average of seven
parrotfish per replicate, but no recordings of
commercially important grouper. Moderate numbers of sea cucumber and giant clam
s
were also recorded on the reefs (although
fewer
than one per replicate).
Figure 2.2i.
A
matted leatherjacket filefish
(
Acreichthys tomentosus
)
. About 8
cm in length, concealing itself amongst the
branching
Acropora
. It can only feed on the coral pol
yps of the associated corals, so the May bleaching event would
have likely had a s
erious impact on this species. Photo
by Gemana
NGO from
www.facebook.com/gemanango
.
Figure 2.2j.
Pre
-
bleaching view of
the coral reef at Coral Gardens, March 2016. What does this look like now?
Photo
by Gemana
NGO from
www.facebook.com/gemanango
.
34
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
Figure 2.2k.
The back
reef slope at coral gardens that ranges f
rom 3
m at
the shallowest point, down to 20
m.
The survey was carried out at 6
m, in the most productive part o
f the ecosystem (where light is intense, currents
moderate
and plankton supply good).
Photo
by Gemana
NGO from
www.facebook.com/gemanango
.
Conference presentation
Hussein Zahir of the L
a
Mer Group (a local consultancy) gave a presentation on the
bleaching impacts of the 2016 surveys at a Rufford conference in Sri Lanka
in November
2016 (Solandt et al. 2016
).
35
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
2.3
. Discussion and c
onclusions
G
overnance
A
very
worrying trend is emerging in the
central
Maldives
:
o
ne of chronic and point impacts
making a lasting impression on the coral assemblages
(this report)
, fish
populations
(Sattar et al.
2012)
and
the
general
health of the marine life surrounding the islands
. This
is leading to
increasing incidences of disease (
Montano et al.
2012
), COT
(Saponari et al.
2014) and corallimorph outbreaks (this report)
. This trend is
no
t new;
it has
been emerging
since the
mid to late 1990s. The decline of the Maldiv
ian
reefs
was set in the 1990s by
three principal factors:
1.
T
he first mass
-
bleaching event triggered by climate change and increased SST.
2.
T
he development of commercial fisheries for the live
-
fish trade (princip
ally targeting
grouper).
3.
T
he
large
-
scale
expansion of the tourism infrastructure beyond a sustainable limit
,
increasing demand for seafood and construction
.
All of these three issues have had their associated costs. Many would indeed argue that
the second and third points have helped provide jobs for
Maldivian citizens
this is true,
but at
a considerable
cost
.
Indeed the primary area of concern (point 1) has been debated
by
former
President Mohammed Nasheed in terms of concern over climate predictions
resulting in sea level rise and increased stormi
ness that may inundate the islands of the
country. There are various climate models that predict the Maldives to be underwater
within 50 to 100 years
(e.g. Viner 2000
6
)
. A more immediate concern is the ‘second wave’
of resort expansion that is hitting the
nation.
The
instability of the political situation, along
with the national debt, has led to a policy response to
massively
increase land
,
and island
reclamation for tourism expansion
,
arguably
well beyond any sustainable limit
. This
may
have
a short
-
term
positive
i
mpact on the GDP of the islands
, b
ut the impacts on the wi
der
ecosystem and population are likely to be negative in the long run.
A wholly different approach to managing the Maldives
is needed,
whereby power is
devolved
to atoll councils with a
requirement
to sustain local economies
and
growth
,
within
environmental
ly sensible and sustainable
limits.
This may
ineeed
require a reduction in
some aspects of
national
GDP
, but with
this comes
a sense of justice
, resources
and
entitlement that local p
eople deserve
. T
his will
also
result in well
-
being
and security
for
local islands and populations, with funding available for local infrastructure moved away
from private to public areas
(e.g. better housing, schools, shoreline protection)
. For
example, th
e revenue from 2 and 3 above does
no
t necessarily stay within the Maldives
,
because of
(corporate)
foreign ownership of
many
of the businesses. This is inevitable to a
certain degree within the tourism sector, but is regrettable within the export business
for
live fish. The latter will only ever result in the demand of the market being met overseas,
with no intrinsic value associated with the
quality of the local resource
. The market
demand
can
be met
from an
y
other
fish
-
rich
nation if the Maldives run
s
out
of larger fish.
Indeed there is
such a high
price willing to be paid at the market (large live grouper can
fetch
$
100s
in restaurants per kilo)
that an expensive supply
-
side will continue to be
provided, even if suppliers have to travel to mo
re and more remote atolls and countries.
6
https://crudata.uea.ac.uk/cru/posters/2000
-
11
-
DV
-
tourism.pdf
36
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
C
learly the environmental assets that allow such
income for foreign markets
do not ‘feed
the nation’, but do
provide large incomes for
a small minority
within the political
and
business
elite.
A view on the pat
terns in this report and a decade of observations
So how does this manifest into the current condition we see on the reefs of the Maldives
?
It i
s hard to tell what is going on from a few isolated sites, but the general trend is that the
inner reefs have b
een widely and largely impacted, whilst the outer reefs are less
affected
,
and
appear to be ‘holding on’
two
months after the initial bleaching event
.
B
leaching
severity
also
d
ecreases with depth
with deeper sites less bleached
.
However, these
patterns are only
from a few sites, with little time over the course of the Biosphere
Expeditions / MCS
surveys to really understand the pattern on a much wider
scale.
Impacts coincident with
depth
do
,
however
,
also
appear to be observed by other surveyors
(e.g. IUCN).
Th
e
impression
gained
is that there are
three
reef types
of reef location and condition
:
1.
Outer reefs associated with greater current and wave action that are
generally
healthy.
2.
Inner reefs that are affected by disease,
Drupella
,
high wave action on old
-
gro
wth
Acropora
colonies.
3.
Inner reefs that are exhibiting change from a coral
-
dominated state to an a
lgal and
Discosoma
-
phase state
.
Our recommendations on issues related to vulnerability have been highlighted in previous
reports available from the Biospher
e
Expeditions
website
www.biosphere
-
expeditions.org/reports
. Our observations and training will hopefully increase awareness. It
is possible that the Maldives can withstand
in the short term
such a major bleaching
event. But in the long term, the equitable provision of high quality reefs and their r
esources
will further diminish unless drastic actions are taken by those in government.
2.4
.
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profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
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Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
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Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
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Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
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© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
-
for
-
profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
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t
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© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not
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for
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profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Min
isterial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation
A
ppendix I:
Expedition diary and reports
A multimedia expedition dia
ry is available on
https://biosphereexpeditions.wordpress.com/category/expedition
-
blogs/maldives
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2016
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expedition
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All expe
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Technical Report
Full-text available
July 2017 Surveys of central atoll Maldives reefs showing inner reef vs outer reef comparison in response to the May 2016 bleaching event.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
One of the particularly concerning attributes of coral reefs is the potential for ‘phase shifts’ from coral to non-coral dominated assemblages (e.g. Jamaica 25 years ago). The reefs of the Maldives were variously regarded as ‘pristine’ or a ‘wonderland’ by initial visitors with SCUBA such as Cousteau in the 1950s, but profound ecological changes have occurred since then. We have been undertaking Reef Check surveys of the same Maldives sites since 2005 and recorded a variety of ‘states’ of coral reefs, with some shifed from a ‘coral’ to a corallimorph’(non-coral) state. Observations of reef condition of inner to outer reef sites from 2005 to 2015 shows a greater diversity of corals, ascidians, sponges and other benthic invertebrates within the inner atolls, with outer reefs exhibiting much more consistent and higher hard coral cover and bare rock. The 2016 bleaching event was induced by water temperatures of 32 degrees Celcius for two weeks in early May. Surveys in mid-July showed corals in areas of deeper adjacent waters to be (a) either still bleached, some two months after the bleaching event, (b) recovered, or (c) not to have been bleached at all. However, more ‘sheltered’ reefs within the central lagoons showed mass colonisation by algal turfs, encroachment of vulnerable reefs by Discosoma corallimorphs, and Crown-of-Thorns invasions. Observations on the (recent) historical baseline condition of coral communities inside and outside atolls leads us to believe that inner atoll reefs are currently more susceptible to a ‘phase shift’ from a multitude of factors, primarily stimulated by climate change, but exacerbated by local anthropogenic factors. On the other hand, outer reefs appear less affected and indeed could be showing considerable resilience to such impacts.