Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) researchers have been conducting coral reef monitoring (CRM) surveys since 2001. The surveys this year indicates that there are no significant bleaching of Palau’s corals. This is great news for Palau since there were predictions earlier by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that Palau had over 90% chance of bleaching.
There are 23 sites all over Palau that PICRC researchers have been monitoring since 2001. The sites encompass three different coral reef habitats: outer reef (Eastern and Western reefs), patch reefs (sites in Ngarchelong, Ngaremlengui, and Ngchesar), and inner bay reefs (Risong, Taoch, and Nikko Bay).
At these 23 sites, a team of 5 surveyors conduct reef surveys at 10 meters and 3 meters depth to assess the current condition of the reef. The researchers look at the coral coverage, the abundance of invertebrates (sea cucumber, clams, etc), and commercially-valued fish species and their sizes, as well as the density of juvenile corals (young corals with a size smaller than 5 cm (2.5 inches) in diameter). On the Eastern Reef, researchers also measure the rugosity, which is a measure of the reefs structure, whether it is hilly/rough or mostly flat surfaces.
The last time these CRM surveys were conducted was in 2014. During the 2014 CRM surveys, it was found that the eastern reefs had been devastated by two strong typhoons: Bopha (2012) and Haiyan (2013). Thus, this assessment was a great way to look at the coral reef change after two acute disturbances such as typhoons. It has been two years since the last surveys were conducted and 3 years since the occurrence of the last typhoon, therefore, PICRC researchers are now exploring the recovery process and potential of the Eastern reefs
Additionally, this CRM survey is helpful in the assessment of the impacts of coral bleaching. Although mass coral bleaching happened in several places in the world and was projected to happen this year during summer months in Palau, field observations and monitoring data at these sites showed otherwise. So far, there has not been any mass coral bleaching this year, which is good news for our coral reef ecosystems. [/restrict]