People connected by a warming ocean

Posted on 08 December 2011
Fishing village Antsako, Nosy Hara Marine National Park, Madagascar
© WWF Madagascar / Martina Lippuner
Just 8 km South of the Kenya/Somali coastal border, 60 km parallel to the northern coast of Kenya lies Kiunga Marine National Reserve. It is, a marine reserve made up of a chain of about 50 coral islands, lying some 2 km offshore and inshore of the fringing reef.

This marine reserve is home to coral reefs, coral gardens, sea birds, rare endangered sea turtles, mangrove forests and a vibrant underwater world.

But this once pristine environment is slowly taking a beating from a dramatic change in climate.

Fishing has been the main economic activity in this area for centuries. But with the catch getting smaller every day, fishermen are worried.

“There has been a decline in the catch per given effort, and the quantity and size has dramatically reduced,” notes Dismus Kosieny, a Research Technician with the Kenya Marine Fisheries Institute.

As climate gets warmer, so does the water. This warm water causes the fish to have less or no offspring. As for the offspring, they grow much smaller in size.

The rise in water temperature also decreases the amount of oxygen that is dissolved in the water, making it hard for the fish to breathe. As a result many fish are forced to head further out to sea in search of cooler waters.

Kassim Shamina a local fisherman indicates that as a result of warmer water ”...our lobster catch has drastically reduced. Where we would catch a ton of lobster, we can now only average about 300 kilograms per day”.

But fish are not the only ones affected by the warm water. Here, the corals are dying off, the corals are bleaching. Corals shelter different type of fish and marine life. And when bleaching persists, the corals eventually die off, leaving no place for the coral- dependent ecosystem.

With 25% of the world’s marine species living in coral reefs, the results of coral bleaching could be disastrous.

But the exceptional reefs off the shores of Kenya are not the only ones being affected by frequent bleaching events. Sharing the same ocean, the Toliara Reef in Southern Madagascar is the third largest continuous reef system in the World while one of the most vulnerable in the Indian Ocean in terms of climate change.

“With increasing global temperatures, we will see massive bleaching events and the Toliara reef could become infested with green algae. The latter would smother the coral and therefore reduce feeding opportunities for fish” says Tiana Ramahaleo, head of the Climate Change Programme at WWF Madagascar. “A destruction of the reef would threaten tens of thousands of people, with severe impact on their main livelihoods and food supplies”

The reef system is vital for the community’s survival. The Southwestern littoral around Toliara is home to people from the group who traditionally migrate up and down the coast in line with seasonal changes. Nearly 20,000 traditional fishermen and 15,000 canoes operate on the Toliara reef system.

This traditional form of resource use is being threatened and migrants from inland areas affected by drought and deforestation increase competition for resources and pressure on the reef.

An increasingly unpredictable climate has made life difficult for the people in Nosy Hara, an marine protected area in Madagascar’s extreme North. The rainy season has been getting shorter every year, and it has become nearly impossible to farm due to lack of water. Therefore, farmers moved from cultivating the soil to the ocean; and they would have emptied the waters if not for the marine protected area rules set up by WWF.

"The park and the training we get to manage our marine resources better will help us secure our income and defend our traditional territories,” says Abdou Salehy, a local fisherman.

“It is developing countries like Kenya and Madagascar which have contributed the least to global warming that will suffer the worst consequences. If we can’t stop global warming, the collapse of reef systems is just one of many severe consequences for the local populations” adds Ramahaleo.

“Both marine and terrestrial ecosystems will be affected threatening people’s livelihoods and unique species. That’s why we desperately hope for a good deal in Durban”.

Fishing village Antsako, Nosy Hara Marine National Park, Madagascar
© WWF Madagascar / Martina Lippuner Enlarge