Resiliency in Coral Reefs

Resiliency in Coral Reefs

by Kyra Fitz

This summer the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars at NAU have participated in conservation internships across the country. Their blogs give us a peek into what they’ve been up to. Check ’em out!

When it comes to coral reefs, they are often portrayed as either brilliant reefs teeming with vibrant fish or as barren deserts of bleached white corals. Coral reefs are often seen as a “doom and gloom” scenario where if they die, they’re thought to be permanently gone. While this has been a tactic to inspiring action on climate change, it has also caused serious misconceptions among the public. There need to be more success stories for people to believe their actions can make a difference. Further, we as conservationists need to show that there is still so much left to fight for in the natural world.

This is where the term resilience comes in. Resilience is the ability to bounce back: to weather the storm and survive. Coral reefs like any ecosystem are resilient and can react to changes in the world around them. At any given time, a reef might have juveniles growing, some corals losing branches, some dying, and some regrowing. However, this resilience is often not highlighted. I saw an opportunity to tackle this misconception through the creation of time series videos showing the changes a coral reef undergoes from year to year.

The Sandin Lab where I did my internship this summer creates 3D models coral reefs at islands across the world. Palmyra, an island 1,000 miles south of Hawaii, has 3D models dating back to 2012, and it experienced a bleaching event in 2015. This provided the perfect opportunity for me to investigate what happens after a reef experiences bleaching. What I found was truly a story of resilience. I investigated 4 different sites on the island and in each one, some corals died in 2015, yet some started to regrow by 2016. I saw corals which would lose half their branches only to start growing again the next year. To me, this was a story which needed to be told. Palmyra is a remote island with little human influence, and it is an example of how reefs can bounce back when they’re not polluted or overfished.

I created time series videos which take the viewer through the reef and toggle through the years. A temperature bar in the corner shows the rising temperatures and narration describes the changing ecosystem. My aim was to tell a story of resilience: to show the areas where bleaching took hold and killed part of a coral which was able to grow the next year. My hope is for viewers to take action knowing that their efforts to lower their carbon footprint can help coral reefs survive.

Going forward conservationists need to continue looking for resilience within ecosystems and highlight it to the public. People need inspiration, a hope that their efforts can help create a better world. I encourage everyone to look for resilience around them and see the power nature has to recover.

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