Researchers survey Cousin Island reefs

Researchers from Newcastle University in the UK are surveying the reefs around Cousin island, in a joint project with Nature Seychelles. The Newcastle team first carried out a study on Cousin in 1994, and again just after the coral bleaching event of 1998. The bleaching was caused by rising sea temperatures and resulted in widespread coral reef disintegration in Seychelles and elsewhere.

’It is very important to assess what impacts coral bleaching has on other parts of the ecosystem, such as fish’, said Mr Graham. ‘This has important implications for fisheries, tourism and biodiversity protection. We also hope to be able to look at ways that different management techniques can reduce impacts and aid recovery.’

Nick Graham surveying corals around Cousin Island © S. Wilson

In 1994 and 1998 Cousin reefs were found by the researchers to have larger numbers of species of fish that are favoured by the local fisheries than other marine protected areas in the granite islands.

‘This proves that Cousin reefs have been well protected over many years,’ says Nirmal Shah.

Certain species of fish - particularly the Bumphead Parrotfish, which has been over-fished throughout the world - are found in good numbers around Cousin, according to the Newcastle scientists.

’The study forms part of a larger study in the Western Indian Ocean region which is the first long-term assessment of the impacts of coral bleaching on fish assemblages’, said Shaun Wilson, who is also involved in the research project. ‘The results will therefore have global significance.’

Coral bleaching is becoming more common and severe, with predictions suggesting sea warming events such as that of 1998 may be a yearly phenomenon by 2050.

Nature Seychelles, 20 April 2005

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