DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania
Marine scientists and conservationists have teamed up in the East African country of Tanzania to restore coral reefs along the Indian Ocean coast.
Coral reefs, an important habitat for fish species as breeding grounds, also known as underwater gardens for the cacophony of color, have been under threat due to blasting techniques used by fishermen.
Leonard Chauka, a marine science researcher, told Anadolu Agency that so far, they have restored 10,000 square meters of degraded coral reefs. He said the initiative was given a new lease of life to most critical reefs to combat increasing climate pressures and human activities.
“The idea is to grow many of them to allow protection of reefs in wider area and corals long-term recovery,” he said.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Flower Msuya, a senior scientist at the Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Dar es Salaam, said the country was losing coral reefs at a fast pace which has the potential to impact the marine life.
“We lose coral reefs so quickly that we could ever imagine, the impact to marine life and the livelihoods of people is big,” he said.
Besides playing a vital role in maintaining ecological balance, the colorful coral reefs also lure thousands of tourists every year.
“The corals take many years to grow and develop, it may take ages for those affected by blast fishing to recover,” said Msuya.
Scientists believe that these reefs, which form large underwater structures are composed of the skeletons of colonial marine invertebrates called coral.
She said that poor fishing methods and the rising sea temperatures are reasons behind fast depleting reefs across the coast of Tanzania.
Urging the government to intensify marine protection, Msuya asked for curbing illegal fishing methods notably blast fishing, which has pushed the marine ecosystem to the brink of collapse.
Also known as underwater rainforests, the biodiversity hotspots dotting the coast of East Africa, offer crucial habitat to marine species and act as a buffer for the surging coastal storms, local scientists said.
Suffering from bleaching
Chauka said the corals in Tanzania were also suffering from a phenomenon called bleaching.
“This bleaching event was caused by elevated sea surface temperature by 2 degrees Celsius higher than average,” he said.
In Tanzania’s Pemba and Mafia islands, almost 90% of the reefs have suffered coral mortality.
He said due to death of corals because of illegal fishing and the warming of waters have denuded coastal areas from the natural buffer against storms and high waves.
A 2021 study by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network — UN-backed data network — showed that 14% of the world’s corals reefs were already been lost in the past decade.
The study, which examined 10 coral reef-bearing regions globally found that loss was mainly attributed to coral bleaching, which happens when corals, under stress from warmer water, expel the colorful algae living in their tissues, making them turn white.
While coral reefs cover less than 1% of the ocean floor, they support more than 25% of marine biodiversity, including turtles, fish, and lobsters, which fuel global fishing industries.
The reefs are responsible for an estimated $2.7 trillion annually in goods and services, including tourism, the report said.
Along with the coast of Tanga — a port city in northeast Tanzania – one can see the ruins of the dead coral reef. Scientists say these corals have died due to homemade explosives used by local fishermen to catch fish.
“We use these bombs because they spare us some effort in fishing,” said Christopher Kezrahabi, a fisherman in Tanga.
One bottle of explosive can kill everything within a 30 to 100 feet radius.
According to scientists, two-thirds of the East African country’s coastline harbors reefs, which support fish, crabs, and other marine animals and play a crucial role in controlling carbon dioxide levels in the ocean.
Beyond environmental destruction, blast fishing badly affects the livelihood of genuine fishermen.
“I have seen a huge decline of daily fish catches, we are forced to go even deeper into the sea,” said Japhet Makombe, a fisherman in Tanga.