By June Tsai
The composition of coral reefs off southern Taiwan’s Kenting has changed, resulting in declining biodiversity and causing concern over ecological sustainability of the area, according to Academia Sinica Sept. 11.
A long-term study showed that between 1985 and 2010, the coral communities off Kenting’s Wanlitung area were affected by six typhoons and two coral bleaching events. The disturbances resulted in changes in coral species, with branching corals, which are more susceptible to natural or artificial perturbations, disappearing on a large scale and being replaced by massive coral species, according to Chaolun Allen Chen, a research fellow with Academia Sinica’s Biodiversity Research Center.
Moreover, the total living coral coverage rate in the area dropped from 47.5 percent in 1985 to 17.7 percent in 2010. These alterations mean the coral reef has become less ecologically diverse, Chen said.
“These changes deserve our attention as coral reef ecosystems provide important habitats for many highly varied marine organisms and are valuable economic resources.”
According to estimates in 2003, net income provided by coral reefs globally reached NT$1 trillion (US$29.8 billion), he said.
Chen predicted increased occurrences of typhoons along the coastline of Taiwan would cause irreversible damage to coral reefs and the diversity of coral communities, which in turn may have an impact on the sustainable development of the fishery and tourism industries.
Long-term research and data collection, coupled with government action to design suitable marine conservation policies, would help prevent negative consequences from climate change and human activities, he said.
The study was a collaborative effort between researchers from the Biodiversity Research Center and other institutions in Taiwan, as well as scientists from Australia and Malaysia. It was published in the latest issue of the online scholarly journal PLoS ONE. (THN)