Climate change and a starfish outbreak have shrunk coral
reefs near Fiji, forcing locals to change their lifestyle.
A new study, published in Global Change Biology, has found
that from 2000-2006 the size of coral reefs around Fiji's
remote Lau Islands contracted by about 50 percent.
Dr Nick Graham from James Cook University, who took part in
the study, says fishing and habitat disturbance are having a
"The area was disturbed by a crown of thorns starfish
outbreak in about 2000 and then, the subsequent year, there
was also a coral bleaching event associated with climate
change," Graham said.
"We were pretty shocked at just how severe the impact was."
He said so-called "bottom up" pressure from habitat changes
was reducing the number of small fish, while "top down"
pressure, from fishing, reduced the availability of larger
The local population has fallen and people have changed their
"Their actual dependence on protein, on fish resources, has
reduced," Graham said.
"The population size on the islands has gone down. They seem
to be getting more and more involved with land-based
"And the price of tanoa bowls, which they traditionally carve
in those islands, has gone up greatly." Locals fishing around
the five islands surveyed has been cut back by an average of
about 40 percent, he said.
Climate change hurt the reefs because warmer water stressed
the coral, causing it to bleach and ultimately die, he said.
Graham said it was uncertain whether the crown of thorns
outbreak was a result of climate change, too, although
studies had linked outbreaks to increases in nutrients in the
water or overfishing of starfish predators.
He said there were lessons to be learned from the study for
the management of other reefs, including Australia's Great
"We really need to start carefully managing our reefs for
both looking after habitat as well as trying to reduce
fishing and that really means trying to reduce as many local
stresses on the system as you can," he said.
"Because coral bleaching is caused by global warming, which
is a global threat, it quite easy to stand back and say
`there is nothing we can do then'.
"In reality if you can reduce as many of the local pressures
and impacts on the coral reef system, it has got a much
better chance of rebounding and recovering," Graham said.