A rare ocean refuge where coral species are happy and thriving has been discovered off the coast of East Africa. Despite the warming ocean temperatures around the globe which threaten coral reefs and their inhabitants, this pocket of teeming life is very hopeful according to scientists.
The coral sanctuary, which stretches from Shimoni, Kenya, to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, appears to be thriving thanks to cooler waters which come from deep channels formed thousands of years ago by glacial runoffs from Mount Kilimanjaro.
Coelacanths, fish which were once believed to be extinct have been found in the area, along with the biggest density of spinner dolphins in east Africa as well as a host of other fish.
“This gives us something to hope for. Some good news in gloomy times,” says Tim McClanahan, the author of the study, published in Advances in Marine Biology. “It turns out there is a long stretch from Kenyan waters into Dar Es Salaam where these warm water events like El Niño don’t penetrate. So the stress killing corals does not penetrate. Outside that area, the corals are bleached and dying. But inside the area, of around 400 sq km [150 sq miles] they retain their colour and their health. They are reds and brown. My research partner likes to call them: ‘happy corals’.
“Our study shows that while warming waters may devastate surrounding reefs, this area could become an incredibly important sanctuary where marine species big and small will flock to find refuge from climate change. If well protected, this key transboundary marine ecosystem will remain a jewel of biodiversity for the entire east African coast.”
The key will be to keep the area protected in the face of external threats. For example, Tanzania is planning a new port in the north to serve as a new oil pipeline, while dynamite fishing is a common practice that kills massive amounts of fish in one go and also destroys coral. But having discovered the area, there is now a good chance that measures will now be taken to preserve it.