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  • By Pacific island Times News Staff

Coral reef authorities in Guam sign partnership agreement

A fragment of Acropora pulchra grows on one of the coral trees in the Piti Coral Ocean Nursery in November 2019.  Photo by Laurie Raymundo

A fragment of Acropora pulchra grows on one of the coral trees in the Piti Coral Ocean Nursery in November 2019. Photo by Laurie Raymundo

A working alliance among coral reef scientists and managers related to reef restoration, rehabilitation and damage mitigation has been formalized through the Guam Reef Restoration and Intervention Partnership (GRRIP) launched on Wednesday.

The agreement was signed among the University of Guam, the Guam Bureau of Statistics and Plans, the Guam Department of Agriculture, the Guam Environmental Protection Agency, and UnderWater World Inc.

“By formalizing this MOU, it gives the agencies the weight to allow their personnel to get involved in these kinds of activities,” said Laurie J. Raymundo, interim director of the UOG Marine Laboratory and co-chair of GRRIP. “If we had to hire divers to come out and do this, the cost would be prohibitive, so by partnering we’re allowing this to be doable.”

Though representatives of these agencies have been working together for decades — responding to ship groundings on reefs, establishing and maintaining coral nurseries, relocating corals in threatened areas, and re-establishing populations of selected species in target reef areas ­— the MOU now brings them together formally in the common cause of managing and rehabilitating Guam’s threatened coral reefs in an era of rapid climate change.

University of Guam graduate student Claire Moreland-Ochoa and The Nature Conservancy community organizer Farron Taijeron fix a coral translocated from the Merizo boat ramp to an adjacent site where it can grow undisturbed in March 2019. Photo by Laurie Raymundo

A UOG study released last year indicated that Guam’s reefs are facing severe degradation due to rising ocean temperatures.

"Although long term monitoring efforts have only begun relatively recently (with the exception of the Department of Agriculture’s creel monitoring), and it is difficult to objectively assess the health of Guam’s reefs and how the condition of the reefs has changed over time, data collected over the last decade show significant declines in the amount of living coral on Guam’s reefs," according to Guam Reef Life.

The study found that between 2013 and 2014, Guam lost nearly half of all of its staghorn coral, and between 2003 and the present the percentage of living coral along the east side of the island has declined from about 20 percent to less than 10 percent.

In the past, Guam’s reefs have recovered after drastic declines, but continued degradation of water quality, chronic crown of thorns sea star outbreaks, low numbers of important herbivorous (algae-eating) fishes and other threats make Guam’s reefs less resilient – meaning they are less able to recover from disturbances such as major storms, major crown of thorns outbreaks, or severe coral bleaching events. A particularly distressing sign of declining reef resilience is the large decrease in rates of coral recruitment (i.e., the settlement of young corals onto the reef) in the last few decades.

Four Guam agencies and UnderWater World Inc. signed an agreement on Feb. 19 formalizing a working alliance in coral reef restoration, rehabilitation, and damage mitigation. (From left) Sara Hamilton, curator, UnderWater World; Nic Rupley, public information officer, Guam Environmental Protection Agency; Chelsa Muna-Brecht, director, Guam Department of Agriculture; Rafael Calderon, senior aquarist, UnderWater World; Thomas W. Krise, president, University of Guam; Tyrone Taitano, director, Guam Bureau of Statistics and Plans; Laurie J. Raymundo, interim director of the UOG Marine Laboratory and co-chair of the Guam Reef Restoration & Intervention Partnership; and Anita Borja Enriquez, senior vice president of Academic and Student Affairs, University of Guam.

Photo courtesy of the University of Guam

GRRIP will carry out activities of restoration, rehabilitation, and damage mitigation in accordance with the Guam Coral Reef Resilience Strategy that was formalized by Executive Order 19-16 in 2019. The agreement outlines specific responsibilities for each partner, such as providing materials and personnel for field activities, assisting with public outreach, data collection, and documentation, and hosting member trainings.

In a recent $856,000 National Fish & Wildlife Foundation grant awarded to the UOG Marine Lab, GRRIP will be of assistance in augmenting populations of essential fish habitat species that were decimated in the severe coral bleaching episodes of 2013–2017. The partnership will provide trained personnel for the outplanting phases of this work.

MOUs are also being developed with The Nature Conservancy, the National Park Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


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