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Coral bleaching confirmed on Seychelles' Curieuse island; project aims to prevent further damage

Curieuse, Seychelles | April 21, 2016, Thursday @ 14:03 in Environment » CONSERVATION | By: Sharon Meriton-Jean and Betymie Bonnelame | Views: 5545
Coral bleaching confirmed on Seychelles' Curieuse island; project aims to prevent further damage

The Seychelles National Park Authority says above average sea temperatures caused by the El Niño phenomenon has affected between 60 percent to 90 percent of coral in the Curieuse Marine Park. (Seychelles News Agency)

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(Seychelles News Agency) - The Seychelles National Park Authority has confirmed reports that corals are starting to turn white in the marine park of Curieuse island and that a project to prevent further damage is about to start.

The Seychelles archipelago of 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean experienced massive coral bleaching by the El Niño phenomenon in 1998. A similar El Niño has occurred this year, bringing above-average temperatures to the region.

“We did a quick assessment and found that the situation is more alarming than in 1998 when there was the El Niño incidence,” said Allen Cedras, an official of the Marine Park Authority.

Coral bleaching, which causes a loss of natural colours in coral, was observed in all types of corals, from rocky shores to reefs areas in the marine protected area of 14.7 square kilometres. Curieuse is 15 minutes from Praslin, Seychelles' second-most populated island. 

Cedras told SNA that bleaching, caused by an increase in the sea temperature, has affected between 60 percent to 90 percent of coral in the Curieuse Marine Park. He said the problem could become even worse. 

A display of some of the affected corals taken from the Curieuse National Park. (Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY

With an aim to save the coral, a two-year pilot project is about to start and will include corals grown in an underwater nursery around the island and then transplanted.

The UN is providing $360,000 under an Ecosystem-Based Adaptation to Climate Change (EBA) project.

Divers who are part of the pilot project were recently seen collecting fragments of different corals in shallow areas of the marine park.

“Over 9,000 fragments of corals will be transported in the first test,” said the project coordinator, Jude Bijoux, adding that these are carefully selected in shallow areas where they do not show signs of bleaching.

The fragments are then grown in the nursery off Anse Papaie beach of Curieuse on ropes and meshed cages before being transplanted to the two sites.

“One site is off the coast of Praslin in the Amitie area and the other overlooks the beach of Mandarin, off the coast of Curieuse,” say Bijoux.

Coral-growing or coral-nursery projects are not new to the 115 islands archipelago. Such coral replanting exercise have been undertaken at Amitie on Praslin, by Nature Seychelles and at Petite Anse bay in the south of the main island, Mahe.

Fragments of different corals are already being collected for the coral gardening project.(Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY

The recent changes in the weather bringing more rain is giving the corals a temporary respite.

“We are lucky now we are having some rain and the weather is changing, cooling the waters and preventing further damage,” said Cedras, the Seychelles' National Park Authority officer.

Cedras said some corals are more resilient than others and the team is trying to find out why.

“There are many reasons why one can be currents cooling the water in some areas or some polyps are more tolerant. We have a team right now working on gathering more precise information.”

Meanwhile, Curieuse, which was a former leper colony, has a response plan to emergencies, which according to Cedras, will be initiated to try and contain the coral bleaching. 

A national park since 1979, Curieuse has the second most number of coco-de-mer trees in Seychelles. The coco-de-mer is the largest nut in the world.

Curieuse is an important tourist island but also plays host to an international voluntary programme under the Global Vision International (GVI).

The latter is involved in collecting data on several species on the island including its extensive population of land tortoises and sea turtles.

Curieuse is also a research centre for other international groups such as Earthwatch.

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Tags: coral-nursery, UN, Curieuse, corals, coral bleaching, Seychelles National Park Authority, Ecosystem-Based Adaptation to Climate Change

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