The swift recovery of Fiji's coral reefs four years after a powerful cyclone hit shows that they had been well managed by the local communities.
On 20 February 2016, tropical cyclone Winston struck Fiji. It was described as the most destructive cyclone ever to strike in the Pacific. With winds of up to 280km/h, the coral reefs in the Namena Marine Reserve and Vatu-i-Ra Conservation Park off Fiji were completely destroyed.
To understand how cyclones affect coral reefs and how fast the reefs recover, the team at Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Fiji conducted three surveys at different times—one month after, six months after and in December 2020 (more than four years after the cyclone).
They discovered that after just four years, the scenes of devastation had been transformed into those of hope and promise—in the form of fish swimming amongst vibrant and healthy coral reefs. Fish could even be found in parts of the reef where corals had not yet been replenished.
“The fast recovery likely reflects these reefs have good natural recruitment and they are well managed. Coral reefs that were healthier [before a destructive event like a cyclone] are expected to recover a lot faster,” said Sangeeta Mangubhai, director of WCS Fiji, in an article in The Guardian.
Collectively covering nearly 200 sq km, the Namena Marine Reserve and Vatu-i-Ra Conservation Park comprise different marine ecosystems, including shallow reefs, deep water passages and small islands.
Because the local iTaukei communities hold customary fishing rights over Vatu-i-Ra and Namena, WCS Fiji had been working with them to establish reef management measures such as large no-take areas within the reefs.
Despite the swift recovery of Fiji's reefs, not all reefs affected by cyclones would recover as fast. In many other parts of the world, coral reefs are in decline.
The world is experiencing a climatic crisis, which is expected to lead to more severe tropical cyclones and warmer, more acidic oceans, and this will subsequently worsen conditions for coral reefs.