Indonesia: Forest fires blamed for coral reef bleaching

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb The Jakarta Post 4 May 16;

An environmentalist has warned of the impact of forest fires on the sustainability of coral reefs.

Coral reef biotechnologist Indra Junaidi Zakaria of Padang’s Andalas University cited that forest fires in Sumatra had whitened coral reefs in waters around the island. Coral reef bleaching has been occurring since February and continues to worsen, affecting 90 percent of the coral reefs along the western coast of West Sumatra. The condition is predicted to continue until June, with western parts of Sumatra the worst
hit to date.

Indra said massive forest fires in Sumatra last year released carbon dioxide into the sky, blocking sun rays from reaching the earth and increasing the temperature of the sea.

“This is what caused coral reef bleaching, especially on the Acropora family,” said the doctoral degree holder from Christian Albrechts Universitat Zu Kiel, Germany.

He said the temperature increase had created a domino effect on the eastern parts of the country.

Other causes of coral reef bleaching, according to Indra, include a decrease in the area of primary forests or conversions of primary forests into homogenous forests, such as oil palm plantations, as well as the use of fossil energy in factories and motorized vehicles.

Indra maintained that although the sea temperature would decrease come the rainy season, it would
not be easy for the bleached coral reef to recover.

He said the damage to coral reefs due to bleaching may reach 90 percent in a number of locations in West Sumatra. Bigger coral reef families, however, were more resistant than smaller ones, allowing them to recover within two years. Smaller ones such as Acropora, on the other hand, would need between five and 10 years to recover.

“Even then it won’t necessarily be optimal,” he said.

Among the impacts of coral reef damage is a decrease in the number of fish species in the respected areas. Quoting research conducted by his students, Indra said coral reef bleaching had decreased the number of fish species in West Sumatra, from 123 in 1992 to 98 in 2015.

“The disappearing species included those of economic value that were usually caught by fishermen,” he said.

Indra said the planting of trees capable of absorbing carbon in the air would be a good move to anticipate coral reef bleaching in the future.

Diver Indrawadi of the Proklamator Student Diving unit of Bung Hatta University in Padang said bleaching had hit coral reefs on a number of waters in West Sumatra since May 2015 and reached its peak in March this year.

“Coral reel heavens like Marak Island in the Mandeh tourist resort, South Pesisir regency, and Pieh Island in Padang Pariaman regency, have been seriously damaged due to bleaching,” he said.

Mentawai Islands Tourism Agency head Desti Seminora echoed his sentiments regarding the impacts of coral reefs bleaching in the region.

“We have been encouraging tourists to explore coral reefs. But coral reef bleaching has hit nearly all coastal locations, leaving only a few to survive,” Desti said.

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