After Winston: Assessing Coral Reefs for Cyclone Damage and Coral Bleaching

WCS Fiji office in the aftermath of Cyclone Winston. Photo by Sangeeta Mangubhai ©WCS.

By Sangeeta Mangubhai

[This is the first 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]

On Saturday, 20 February 2016, Fiji – with a population of 900,000 – was hit by Category 5 Cyclone Winston. It was one of the largest cyclones we had experienced, with winds of up to 185mph. Over a 24-hour period the cyclone left a trail of destruction through the center of the country and through the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape, where WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) works.

The Fijian Government immediately announced a 30-day state of emergency, calling for coordinated assistance from NGOs, the private sector, and humanitarian aid agencies. As images flood in from across the country, we are getting the full sense of the damage that has been done – especially within the communities we work – and the long road to recovery that is ahead of Fiji.

WCS Fiji office in the aftermath of Cyclone Winston. Photo by Sangeeta Mangubhai ©WCS.

Much of our effort so far, has been around providing food and water relief to our communities until authorities and humanitarian organizations can step in. However, over the next 10 days, through the generous support of Nai’a Cruises (a live-aboard ship that has been diving in Fiji since 1993), I have the opportunity to survey coral reefs throughout the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape to assess the damage caused by Cyclone Winston and collect data on coral bleaching.

Why is this important? Fijians are highly reliant on their coral reefs for both food and for livelihoods. Because fish are the main source of protein, healthy productive coral reefs and their associated fisheries are critical to Fiji’s food security.

I will be using two main techniques to assess the reefs. First, I —> Read More