A First Post-Cyclone Look at Coral Reefs in the Vatu-I-Ra Seascape

Corals that weathered and survived Cyclone Winston. Photo by Sangeeta Mangubhai Photo ©WCS.

By Sangeeta Mangubhai

[This is the second in a series of blogs by WCS-Fiji Director Sangeeta Mangubhai assessing the damage to coral reefs caused by Cyclone Winston, a Category 5 storm that hit Fiji on February 20]

Our first dives were in and around the Vatu-i-Ra Conservation Park, which has been proposed as a conservation area by local communities from Nakorotubu District. This initiative would be part of a unique partnership with local dive tourism operators and the Ra Provincial Office, supported by the Wildlife Conservation Society.

We knew the eye of Cyclone Winston passed over Ra, destroying up to 90 percent of people’s homes throughout the province while churning up the sea in its path. So we were expecting some damage to the reefs.

Corals that weathered and survived Cyclone Winston. Photo by Sangeeta Mangubhai Photo ©WCS.

Heading out to our first dive site, we saw in the distance Vatu-i-Ra – an island of cultural and historical importance to the village of Nasau and home to nine species of breeding seabirds. With more than 20,000 pairs of breeding Black Noddies (Anous tenuirostris), the island is recognized as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area.

What was apparent, even at a distance, was that almost all of the trees on Vatu-i-Ra Island seemed to be stripped of their leaves and very few seabirds could be seen. Without the leaves for cover, arboreal nests and chicks will not survive. We will know more next month when BirdLife International, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, and the Wildlife Conservation Society partner up to do detailed assessments of the island and surrounding reefs.

Soft corals flourishing in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape. Photo ©Janet McClelland.

As I rolled back off the skiff into the water for my first dive, I was dreading what was below the surface. But when I opened my eyes and descended —> Read More