One in 100: The coral reefs of Rarotonga and the world

Saturday November 23, 2019 Written by Published in Weekend
Apii Nikao Year 7 student Hanamarie Henry loves to learn about how she too can protect the coral reefs of her home Rarotonga.  19112242 Apii Nikao Year 7 student Hanamarie Henry loves to learn about how she too can protect the coral reefs of her home Rarotonga. 19112242

The good news is that Cook Islands reefs are healthier than many around the world. The bad news is we have a lot of work to do to maintain them. Anneka Brown reports.


Apii Nikao student Hanamarie Henry had no idea coral reefs were alive – she has just learnt corals are actually marine animals.

And the 11-year-old seems excited to learn more, to go out on the reef herself.

“I’ve been learning that corals are one of the most important species in our marine environment and if we destroy them, there will be no more life in the sea,” she says.

Henry has been fascinated by Marine scientist Dr Teina Rongo, who has devoted his time to educate Cook Islands youth about coral reefs and the changing environment.

In fact, Henry says she now wants to become a marine biologist. “I think it will be fun saving our corals.”

Korero O Te ‘Orau’s chaiman Dr Teina Rongo is collaborating with The 100 Island Challenge, an effort based at Scripps Institution of Oceanography to describe the variation of coral reefs from across the globe.

By doing field surveys with imaging and data technologies, they can archive reefs digitally and watch how populations change through time.

In February 2018, the 100 Island Challenge team partnered Korero O Te ‘Orau to survey reefs around Rarotonga and now they are here again to see if there are any changes to the coral reefs’ health.

They collected large-area benthic or bottom images at each site. In total, 12 sites were surveyed around Rarotonga.

Researcher for the 100 Island Challenge project Chris Sullivan says each island they visit around the Pacific region, they do reef fish surveys, record water temperatures and capture images of the coral reef to produce a 3D map.

They look at which islands have more nutrients in the water and how that compares with volcanic islands and atolls and the population of people living there.

 “The biggest part of this research is that we are not just studying one coral reef but many across the world. Not all reefs are the same,” he explains.

“The different characteristics we find from each reef can tell us what is happening to coral reefs around the world and how they are going to react to the future of a changing world.”

This research will help to inform policies to keep the marine environment healthy.

Sullivan and his fellow researchers have been diving for the past four days to analyse the parts of the coral reef and the sea floor.

“Based on what I have seen, Rarotonga’s reefs are in really good health,” says Sullivan, “especially when we have seen other reefs around the Pacific that have been hit really hard by coral bleaching.”

He has not seen any indicators of problems with coral health in Rarotonga.


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