‘When corals die off, we die off’

Health Should Be Easy
‘When corals die off, we die off’

(CNN)In 1998, the cruel heat of El Nino hit Seychelles hard. Sea surface temperatures rose around the Indian Ocean, bleaching 90% of coral reefs in the archipelago. Widespread flooding caused significant economic losses — fishing and agriculture accounting for more than half of the total figure according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

A survey of the threats
Headlines refer to the “slow creep” of climate change. In pockets of the world not yet on its frontlines, there is still doubt or ambivalence — even from the highest offices in the land. Seychellois, however, can measure the effects with a yardstick along their coastline.
“People that don’t believe in climate change, maybe they need to come to the Seychelles,” says Lisa Laporte Booyse, who runs a guesthouse on the southeast tip of Mahe, the largest island in the chain.
“We can show them photos of things that were very different before … coastal erosion. We can see flooding that we never experienced, the higher temperatures that we’ve never experienced before. The season(al) changes that have had an effect.”

“Before, we literally could tell you the day that our rainy season would start. Now, we have droughts that we never experienced before.”

Bleached coral close to the coast. Coral coverage dropped from 50% to 5% on reefs in 2016.

The IMF cites 2010 as Seychelles’ “worst drought in decades,” also noting that in January 2013 intense rain caused landslides in Pointe Au Sel, and in May 2007 extreme high tides spread 164 feet inland, striking roads and infrastructure. Locals are being forced to create ad hoc barriers from rocks to prevent beaches from being washed away.
So much of the affairs on land are dictated by the health of the biosphere in the water.
When it comes to coastal erosion, reefs are key, acting as a wave breaker protecting the shoreline, explains Savi Leblond, project leader at the Cerf Island Conservation Program, 2.5 miles off the coast of Mahe. Without strong reefs, the land is at the mercy of the ocean. At present, they are delicately poised.

Custodians of the ocean
“It was the fishermen who said it’s not like it was before,” recalls Booyse.
Seychellois look to the sea for sustenance; they’re custodians of over 500,000 square miles of ocean, and 15% of the population are engaged in fishing and fishing-related activities. But it’s already proving harder for fisherman like Augustin Desaubin and others to eek out a living.

Fisherman Augustin Desaubin surveys the ocean. Since he was a boy fish stocks have depleted, he says.

As a boy Desaubin remembers “the corals were beautiful; plenty of coral inside the reef, plenty of fish,” he adds. “Now we can see only seaweed.”
“When I was young, octopus was abundant. I (would) dive for about one hour, you’d have five or six octopus and go home.” Now approaching 50, Desaubin says there are days when he returns empty-handed.
“Corals cover less than 0.1% of the world’s surface area but they house over 25% of the world’s biodiversity,” Leblond explains.
If coral degradation continues, it’s not just the tourist industry that will suffer. But while some nations haver in their commitment to fighting climate change, Seychelles is ramping up its efforts.

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