Kenya and Tanzania are among eight countries in the Western Indian Ocean region that will benefit from a study assessing the vulnerability of coral reefs ecosystem.
Coral reefs shield coastlines from major waves, storms and floods. They are also important for fish and marine transport sector.
However, globally, these ecosystems are rapidly depleting. Western Indian Ocean regions have been urged to protect coral reefs by expanding more marine protected areas, where fishing is regulated to control ocean pollution.
Marine park managers, lobbies and scientists from Comoros, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa and Tanzania have started a study that will evaluate the dangers coral reefs are facing.
“There is evidence that suggests coral reefs are declining. This assessment will provide evidence to governments to encourage them to increase their investments in protection of coral reefs,” Mishal Gudka, project manager at Coastal Oceans Research and Development – Indian Ocean (CORDIO) East Africa.
South Africa is among the countries in the Western Indian Ocean region that has protected its coral reefs.
“In South Africa, we are fortunate that all the coral reefs are within marine protected areas but we only have a small amount of reef because we are not tropical.
“But East African countries should preserve and establish marine protected areas,” said Dr Sean Porter, an ecologist at South African Association for Marine Biological Research
Dr Porter warned that fish would rapidly deplete due to lack of coral reefs.
“Fish will deplete in the WIO region if the ecosystem and environment are not managed sustainably. In South Africa, we have less coral reefs but we value them because they bring in millions of rands through ecotourism,” added Dr Porter.
He said East African countries can use the coral reefs for tourism, adding that most of international tourists flock to Africa to engage in snorkelling and diving just to see the beautiful ecosystem.
He called for sustainable ecosystem conservation efforts in the region to enjoy the benefits such as eco and sports tourism through snorkelling, diving and recreational fishing.
“This is an important assessment because it evaluates how threatened coral reefs are in the region due to different pressures including climate change, pollution and mining. After the study and evaluation, we can prioritise our conservation efforts and determine which regions to focus in,” added Dr Porter.
He lauded Kenya for banning plastic bags, saying they pose dangers to marine life.
According to CORDIO East Africa director Dr David Obura, there is a massive decline of Coral reefs off the Kenya coast, which poses dangers to the marine ecosystem and the maritime sector.
The scientists blamed global warming, ocean pollution, overfishing and greenhouse gas emissions for the depletion of coral reefs.
There are 250 coral reef species in Kenya, with the highest diversity found in Shimoni and Kisite areas.
The study also will identify the biggest threats to coral reefs and improve their management plans.
The countries in the study will use the data to improve their policies and legislation towards environmental conservation and the ecosystem management.