The forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch regarding the potential increase in sea water temperature - which states the potential for sea water temperature to increase in early 2024, is being taken seriously by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) of the Republic of Indonesia.

The Ministry, through the Kupang National Marine Conservation Area (BKKPN), conducted an assessment of the coral bleaching phenomenon as a follow-up to this prediction.

This assessment is carried out in stages and continuously from January to mid-February 2024, in the Gili Air Island Conservation Area, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan (Gili Matra), the Banda Sea Conservation Area and the Savu Sea National Park.

The Director General of Marine and Marine Spatial Management (Ditjen PKRL), Victor Gustaaf Manoppo, in his statement in Jakarta, explained that an assessment of the coral bleaching phenomenon needs to be carried out, because coral reefs are a very important ecosystem for marine life and humans.

“Coral reefs are home to a variety of marine species, providing food resources, coastal protection and a source of income for coastal communities. Meanwhile, coral bleaching can cause extensive ecosystem damage and be detrimental to marine life, as well as human resources that depend on coral ecosystems. If mitigation and adaptation steps are not taken, it will be dangerous,” said Victor.

Director of Ecosystem and Aquatic Biota Conservation at the ministry, Firdaus Agung, added that reef bleaching events, predicted by scientists, will occur more frequently on a wide scale. This is in line with the increase in sea surface temperatures, as a result of climate change. Therefore, Firdaus reminded the need for an integrated response, especially urgent monitoring activities for areas of the coral reef ecosystem that are predicted to experience coral bleaching based on the model developed by NOAA.

So there needs to be a collaborative effort between the government, community and other stakeholders. Because this is also very important to do, in an effort to protect and restore coral reefs which are vulnerable to global climate change.

Head of Kupang BKKPN Imam Fauzi said the assessment was carried out using community science methods, involving community groups and diving operators. Among other things, in the Banda Marine Conservation Area it involves Luminocean Banda, while in the Savu Sea TNP it involves the Yapeka Foundation, then in the Gili Matra Island Conservation Area it involves the Gili Indah Ecosystem Foundation, Gili Matra Bersama Foundation, Pokmaswas Gili Matra. Not to forget, dive operators who are members of the Gili Island Diving Alliance and Oceans.

"The results of the rapid assessment show that the average level of bleaching of live hard corals in all forms of coral growth in the Gili Matra Island Conservation Area is around less than 25%. However, there are several locations that experienced bleaching reaching 50 to 75% or even above 75%, namely Bounty Wreck (West of Gili Meno Island) and Sunset Reef (South of Gili Trawangan Island)," he explained.

Coral bleaching conditions in the Banda Marine Conservation Area, based on rapid assessments carried out at the Banda Lava Flow and Miniature Sites, show that it is generally around below 25%. In this condition, the branching coral is still in the pale stage as a result of exposure to coral bleaching events. Apart from that, other biota that also experience bleaching are Anemones and Sponges.

Meanwhile, a rapid assessment of coral bleaching in the Sawu Sea TNP carried out at Oesina Beach, Lifuleo Village, Kupang Regency, showed that coral bleaching was still very low with an occurrence percentage value below 5%.

“Monitoring surveys are divided into three phases, namely rapid surveys, peak bleaching surveys and post-bleaching surveys. The coral bleaching phenomenon still needs to be followed up, by conducting a detailed survey of the peak of coral bleaching in the near future. Apart from that, mitigation is also needed by reducing anthropogenic pressure, so that corals can survive and recover naturally. One of them is by increasing awareness and participation of users of coral reef ecosystem services in conservation areas," concluded Imam.