In the past week, Palau received widespread praise when the Khaled bin Sultan Living Ocean Foundation’s (KSLOF) Global Reef Expedition, hailed as the largest coral reef survey in history, showed Palau to have the highest live coral cover of any studied in the world. However, the study also showed that overfishing on nearshore reefs is hurting Palau’s reef-fish communities.

“By expanding current fisheries management regulations, and expanding no-take no-entry areas, Palau’s reef-fish communities could become some of the best in the world,” the report said.

KSLOF surveys were conducted by an international team of scientists on reefs across the globe. The team spent a month in Palau in 2015 assessing its coral reefs.

Monitoring studies by the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC), conducted independently of the KSLOF study, yielded similar results. But PICRC says that more recent regulations, not yet implemented at the time of KSLOF’s study, may change the conclusions the study makes about “overfishing” on Palau’s reefs.

PICRC CEO Dr. Yimnang Golbuu says that the KSLOF report, which is based on data from 2015, may not take into account the effects of new management regimes in the Northern Reef and the recent laws banning the export of fish.

“The big advantages from our work is that it is a monitoring program, so we see changes over time,” Dr. Golbuu said. “Our continued monitoring will be able to show us how our recent management efforts are helping our fish populations.”

Like the KSLOF report, PICRC studies conducted in 2017 showed that many reefs in Palau have low fish biomass, indicating that overexploitation of fish stocks in the past has hurt the reef-fish communities. But Dr. Golbuu hopes that tighter fishing regulations in recent years will have a significant impact on those stocks.

In addition to coral reef monitoring, PICRC has helped to carry out community surveys across Palau in order to determine how well-respected marine protected areas and fishing regulations are across the states.

However, PICRC’s monitoring has suggested that the most urgent threat to Palau’s reefs may not be overfishing, but bleaching.

Monitoring conducted by PICRC researchers has identified a small amount of bleaching at some of the observation sites, allegedly caused by changing weather patterns.  

“So far we have seen coral bleaching mainly in the lagoon reefs, like the rock islands and Ngermid Bay, and some east of Ngerchong,” said PICRC Researcher Victor Nestor. However, Mr. Nestor said that observations conducted on the east coast of Babeldaob, in Angaur, and on the west barrier reefs have so far shown little sign of bleaching.

A coral bleaching model co-authored by PICRC earlier this year predicts that coral bleaching will occur in Palau any time there is negative ENSO and negative PDO. The weather change caused by La Nina is suspected to be responsible, as it was during the mass bleaching events in 2010 and in 1998.

PICRC researchers maintain that countermeasures taken against bleaching include coral-restoration actions such as greater fishing regulations around badly-affected corals. 

Coral-monitoring stresses fishing regulations

In the past week, Palau received widespread praise when the Khaled bin Sultan Living Ocean Foundation’s (KSLOF) Global Reef Expedition, hailed as the largest coral reef survey in history, showed Palau to have the highest live coral cover of any studied in the world. However, the study also showed that overfishing on nearshore reefs is hurting Palau’s reef-fish communities.

“By expanding current fisheries management regulations, and expanding no-take no-entry areas, Palau’s reef-fish communities could become some of the best in the world,” the report said.

KSLOF surveys were conducted by an international team of scientists on reefs across the globe. The team spent a month in Palau in 2015 assessing its coral reefs.

Monitoring studies by the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC), conducted independently of the KSLOF study, yielded similar results. But PICRC says that more recent regulations, not yet implemented at the time of KSLOF’s study, may change the conclusions the study makes about “overfishing” on Palau’s reefs.

PICRC CEO Dr. Yimnang Golbuu says that the KSLOF report, which is based on data from 2015, may not take into account the effects of new management regimes in the Northern Reef and the recent laws banning the export of fish.

“The big advantages from our work is that it is a monitoring program, so we see changes over time,” Dr. Golbuu said. “Our continued monitoring will be able to show us how our recent management efforts are helping our fish populations.”

Like the KSLOF report, PICRC studies conducted in 2017 showed that many reefs in Palau have low fish biomass, indicating that overexploitation of fish stocks in the past has hurt the reef-fish communities. But Dr. Golbuu hopes that tighter fishing regulations in recent years will have a significant impact on those stocks.

In addition to coral reef monitoring, PICRC has helped to carry out community surveys across Palau in order to determine how well-respected marine protected areas and fishing regulations are across the states.

However, PICRC’s monitoring has suggested that the most urgent threat to Palau’s reefs may not be overfishing, but bleaching.

Monitoring conducted by PICRC researchers has identified a small amount of bleaching at some of the observation sites, allegedly caused by changing weather patterns.  

“So far we have seen coral bleaching mainly in the lagoon reefs, like the rock islands and Ngermid Bay, and some east of Ngerchong,” said PICRC Researcher Victor Nestor. However, Mr. Nestor said that observations conducted on the east coast of Babeldaob, in Angaur, and on the west barrier reefs have so far shown little sign of bleaching.

A coral bleaching model co-authored by PICRC earlier this year predicts that coral bleaching will occur in Palau any time there is negative ENSO and negative PDO. The weather change caused by La Nina is suspected to be responsible, as it was during the mass bleaching events in 2010 and in 1998.

PICRC researchers maintain that countermeasures taken against bleaching include coral-restoration actions such as greater fishing regulations around badly-affected corals. 

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