Feb. 15, 2013
PICRC Signs Record of Discussion for SATREPS Project
On Thursday, February 14th, Palau International Coral Reef Center’s (PICRC) Chairman of the Board, Dr. Patrick Tellei, together with Palau’s Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) representative, Mr. Nobuaki Matsui, signed the record of discussions for a five year, collaborative research project between PICRC and the University of Ryukyus (UoR). The Honorable Umiich Sengebau, Minister of MNRET, acted as a witness for the signing. Additionally, members of the Joint Coordinating Committee (JCC) were in attendance. The JCC will help formulate the annual plan of operation for the project, review the results of the annual plan of operation, evaluate the progress of the project, and help facilitate major issues and differences of opinions that arise during the implementation of the project.
Entitled, “Project for sustainable management of coral reef and island ecosystems: responding to the threat of climate change,” the project will focus on interdisciplinary research efforts to aide our understanding and quantify the impacts of climate change. It will begin in 2013, and it is scheduled to be completed in 2018. The research project was awarded a highly competitive grant from the Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development (SATREPS). SATREPS is a Japanese government program that promotes international joint research targeting global issues, and it is supported by the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) and JICA. SATREPS core focus is international collaboration, acknowledging that global challenges cannot be met by a single country or region acting alone. SATREPS projects are either three or five year commitments and they focus on two primary outcomes: 1) enhanced research capacity and 2) scientific data with the potential for practical use.
PICRC’s mission is to be an international Center of Excellence to support conservation and management for the perpetuation of marine and associated environments through research and education that is significant to Palau and relevant to the world. PICRC is excited about this collaborative project, because it helps fulfill the center’s mission and it will provide needed information to aide in marine conservation.
Feb. 13, 2013
PICRC publishes paper describing relationships among key variables influencing coral reef resiliency.
Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC), as part of its ongoing research on the variables which influence coral reef health, together with researchers from University of Queensland, University of Maine, Florida Institute of Technology, and the US Geological Survey at the University of Hawaii, published an article which identified and described the relationships among the key variables that influence coral reef resiliency—wave exposure, herbivore biomass, canopy height of algal turfs, coral cover, and juvenile coral spatial density patterns. The paper, entitled Empirical relationships among resilience indicators on Micronesian reefs, analyzes how these variables interact and influence each other.
The paper, which was published in the journal Coral Reefs, set out to answer the following research questions:
1. What factors influence herbivorous fishes’ community structure and biomass?
2. How do variations in algal turf canopy height influence coral recruitment?
3. Are there correlations between the density of fleshy macroalgal cover and coral settlement?
4. What factors explain juvenile coral geographic patterns?
The research was conducted in Palau, Pohnpei, and Guam, which all differ in the extent of fishing intensity, wave exposure, size, and human population. The research results described the both positive and negative correlations between the many variables affecting our coral reefs. By establishing a detailed record of these interactions, the paper will help inform and direct further research on coral reef resiliency.
This publication, which is important regionally and internationally, helps PICRC fulfill its mission to be an international Center of Excellence to support conservation and management for the perpetuation of marine and associated environments through research and education that is significant to Palau and relevant to the world. For more information, please contact the center at
or visit www.picrc.org.
Feb. 11, 2013
PICRC studies coral reef “recruitment” and “connectivity”
Can we predict the best localities where young corals and fish are going to settle on the reef? In its ongoing effort to conserve Palau’s unique and extensive coral reefs, Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) conducted a study in 2009-2011 to test whether an oceanographic computer model can predict where corals settle onto the reefs. Knowing which reefs are good source of coral “babies” and which ones mainly receives the babies from other places (sink) is important because we need to give special attention to source reefs since they provide the seeds for other reefs. Field researchers surveyed 80 randomly selected sites concentrated around Babeldaob’s main archipelago, its northern reefs, and reefs south to the Rock Islands. The study, entitled Predicting Coral Recruitment in Palau’s Complex Reef Archipelago, was published in the November 2012 issue of the scientific journal PLoS ONE (http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0050998
), an open access journal that is free to everyone in the world.
Previous studies on coral-reef connectivity and recruitment were focused on isolated, individual islands and reefs, and not on a system of reefs such as in Palau. The researchers concluded that when corals spawn on Palau’s reefs, resulting in drifting larvae, the larvae can end up on other reefs in the archipelago. The researchers called these reefs ‘connected’. But some reefs were more ‘connected’ than others. On some reefs, where there are abundant corals, most of the larvae stayed locally. Whereas on other reefs, which had few reefs nearby, and were more isolated, the coral larvae ended up on distant reefs, and were not “self-seeding”. Patterns of transport and settlement were examined using a computer model. “The models predicted where larvae would end up, but most remarkably the model predictions showed lots of larvae in locations where we actually recorded lots of juvenile corals”, said Dr. Yimnang Golbuu, chief researcher at PICRC and lead author of the study. “The model took years to develop”, said Dr. Eric Wolanski, one of the co-authors of the study, who has worked on oceanographic models for nearly four decades. “But this model is extremely exciting”, said Dr. Wolanski, “because in Palau we have real data from the reefs that verified the model’s results – it is no longer merely a computer game, but is now a useful tool for all stakeholders of coral reefs”. “The model can be easily modified and applied to reef fisheries “adds Dr. Wolanski.
The study also determined that Palau’s local reefs have enough coral larvae to sustain themselves, “but in times of stress and large environmental change, the ability to recruit from distant reefs may help ensure their survival”, said Dr. Golbuu. Using satellite altimetry data to reconstruct the oceanic currents in the past, the researchers suggest that recruitment of coral larvae from Yap is the reason that Palau’s reefs bounced back from the disastrous coral bleaching event that occurred during the El Niño ocean conditions of 1997-1998. Although such ‘connections’ may only occur once a decade, they are still very important. This work also reinforces the importance of PICRC's local and regional watershed work to coral reef management, as efforts must protect not only the source and sink reefs, but the water quality of corridors of transport that connect them. Reducing runoff and sedimentation helps maintain the connection among reefs, protecting recruitment processes essential to a legacy of thriving reefs for future generations.
This study contributes to the national agenda to establish a resilient Protected Area Network (PAN) for Palau’s coral reefs that will survive human impacts and climate change. The information generated will help identify potential additional sites for inclusion into the PAN so that Palau’s reef ecosystem remains robust and resilient.
Feb. 2, 2013
Our researchers accompanied a visiting oceanographer, Eric Wolansky, to the field to look at the currents around a known grouper aggregation site. They will use the current information to develop a computer model for the site, which will be useful for testing research hypothesis.
Sept. 26, 2012
Research by Palau International Coral Reef Center identifies climate-change refugia in Palau
A new study published last month in the scientific journal, Ecology and Evolution
, by researchers from Palau International Coral Reef Center and their colleagues, shed new light on how bleaching events affect coral reefs. More importantly, this study showed remarkable results on how there is hope for some areas in Palau which appear to be naturally resistant to increased sea surface temperature. The study entitled, “Climate-change refugia in the sheltered bays of Palau: analog of future reefs
” describes the bleaching event during the summer of 2010, when increasing temperatures around the waters of Palau were causing corals to bleach throughout the archipelago. It was during this period that the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) initiated a study to assess this bleaching event. This study involved surveying 80 sites throughout the main Palau Island; identifying over 34, 000 coral colonies; and measuring their size and assessing whether they underwent bleaching.
Global warming, a phenomenon associated with climate change, is expected to have serious effects on coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean, among the main effects is increased sea surface temperatures.. As most marine organisms live within a narrow temperature range, even a short-term increase in temperature can have a dramatic impact on coral survival. In the past two decades, for example, short-term extreme high temperatures contributed to a decline of corals throughout the tropics. With the continuing rise in atmospheric CO2, global warming is anticipated to get worse and this will lead to increased water temperatures, which will result in greater frequency and severity of coral bleaching. It is not surprising, then, that climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing coral reefs in Palau today.
When corals are exposed to higher temperatures outside of their comfort zone, they become stressed. And when they are stressed, they expel their symbiotic algae ( called zooxanthellae). The presence of these algae inside the corals is critical for the corals’ survival as they are the main source of nutrients (food) for the corals. Thus, when symbiotic algae are ejected from the corals, the corals turn white – this incident is called ‘coral bleaching’. The corals will then starve, because their food supply is removed.
The remarkable result from this research was the discovery that reefs around bays did not bleach as much as other reef habitats. The results of the study provide important lessons for marine resource management in Palau. The first lesson is that there is hope for some areas that seem naturally resistant to higher SST, which are the reefs in the bay areas. These resistant areas need to be incorporated into the Protected Areas Network to help those sites in the network that are not resistant. The second lesson, however, is that higher water temperatures are not the only threat to coral reefs, especially those reefs around the bay areas, which are in close proximity to land because they are more vulnerable to land-use change than patch and outer reefs. Therefore, protecting near-shore reefs from local disturbances may significantly help buffer the coral reefs of Palau against climate-change induced disturbances.