By RAPHAEL KIYANI
TARA Expeditions are a French non-profit research team that aim to study and uncover how a shifting climate is altering the ecological condition of our oceans. They’ve campaigned diligently to raise awareness about environmental issues and have many public and private partners. They’ve been active for over a decade, sending out numerous expeditions and their latest findings indicate a sinister trend amongst our aquatic depths— coral life is deteriorating on a mass scale. A coral crisis.
TARA’s latest research voyage started in May 2016 and now, in 2017, with over 15,000 samples under their scuba belts, preliminary findings and analysis are beginning to emerge and they show an alarming rate of coral bleaching in the Pacific. Startlingly, in some sites, 90% of coral has been affected. The research team have made a variety of observations whilst traversing the vastness of the Pacific. Some Polynesian islands hold coral with 30-50% exhibiting bleaching effects, while the isolated Pitcairn Islands have as high as 70%. Even Japan, with its more temperate waters hasn’t come away unscathed, Okinwa was observed to have 70% of its coral bleached. Data from the expedition points to massive ecologic shifts in our oceans in the coming decade. Coral reef eco-systems will adapt and facilitate other species.
If you’re not aware of what ‘coral bleaching’ actually is, it’s simply when coral expel algae in their tissue which reduce them to a purely white state. This process can be caused via different temperature, light and nutrient conditions. When coral is bleached, they’re not dead and can recover but they are unfortunately under more stress and it weakens mortality. A grave example of this would be from 2005 when the United States lost half of its Caribbean coral reefs due to mass bleaching effects. A surge of warm waters situated around the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico were the cause.
Hauntingly, captain on TARA’s research vessel De La Brosse claimed “It doesn’t matter where you are in the Pacific, coral is starting to bleach.” Clearly dramatic environmental issues are plaguing our reef eco-systems. So what can we as individuals do to try and alleviate ever-increasing bleaching? There is a plethora of simple environmentally-conscious actions we can take. For example, supporting reef-friendly businesses. You as a consumer wield more power than you may realise, your wallet is a powerful tool. Refraining from using chemical ridden pesticides and fertilisers, conservation of water, and recycling — all of these things and more can help.
This is only half way through TARA’s endeavor, however. They aim to collate many more samples and analysis further. In the coming months they’ll be exploring new destinations such as China, New Caledonia, Papa New Guinea and Palau. Look out for their findings with a keen eye. Let’s hope we can stop the crisis that seems to be occurring among our coral reefs and return them to the full vibrancy they exhibited previously.