Regional Perspectives:


Map 5. Pacific

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The Pacific region (Map 5) has an extremely diverse selection of mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs and is the largest region of coral reefs in the world's oceans. There are extremes in the condition of coral reef ecosystems and in the extent of scientific information about them. In the Pacific Islands, there are about 146,000 ha of mangroves (about 0.7 percent of the world population), the largest areas occur in Solomon Islands, Fiji, and New Caledonia (Ellison, in press). Many mangroves have been lost to land clearing, agricultural development, and construction; and many suffer from pollutants such as oil spillage, contamination from heavy metals and hazardous wastes, and run-off (Scott, 1993). Seagrasses are usually found in water less than 10 m but can be found at depths of 50 m. They live in nutrient rich muds adjacent to mangrove fringes, in carbonate sands around cays on coral reefs, and colonize coral reef platforms and exposed reef slopes. There is a lack of published seagrass research, apart from taxonomic, available for the region. Standing crop biomass is relatively low and little is known on how biomass values change seasonally (Coles and Long, in press). Overall, the condition of coral reefs in the Pacific was rated to be about 70 percent excellent to good and about 30 percent fair to poor. Reefs removed from centers of human population i.e., most of the Australian Great Barrier Reef, atolls in Papua New Guinea, and the Caroline and Cook Islands are in the best shape (Ginsburg, 1994).

To summarize some of the problems, the region will be divided into five areas: Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia, Australia, and New Zealand.

In Melanesia, coral reef ecosystems in the Solomon Islands have very high biodiversity and most are in excellent condition. Upland mining, logging, and coastal development are potential threats. Much of the 64,200 ha of mangroves are being impacted by land clearing and commercial logging. Irian Jaya and Papua, New Guinea, have some of the largest unbroken stretches of mangroves in the world, thousands of uncharted islands and reefs, and is one of the most biodiverse parts of the world. Although the reefs are virtually pristine, many are coming under increasing threat from soil erosion related to land clearing for logging and mining and from the discharge of mine tailings. New Caledonia is the third largest of the Melanesian and insular Pacific island groups. Land erosion caused by mining and bush fires is slowly affecting the reefs, as is sewage discharge, industrial pollution, and overfishing. The island region of Vanuatu consists of 42 volcanic islands with the larger islands consisting of extinct volcanoes with uplifted coral reefs. Human-related stresses are confined to the urban center of Port Vila on Efate where overharvesting of corals, coastal construction, and possibly sewage discharges are degrading reefs. Finally, in the over 840 different islands that make up Fiji, natural disturbances such as earthquakes and tropical cyclones disturb the reefs. In the Suva urban area, soil erosion from logging and upland farming, disposal of tailings from copper mines, sand dredging for construction materials and pollution stress reef ecosystems. Overfishing and overharvesting are degrading reefs near population centers, and giant clams have been seriously depleated. Traditional fishing controls are still exercised by villages (Maragos and Holthus, in press).

In Micronesia, the Mariana Islands are volcanic in the north, and are a mixture of larger high limestone and volcanic islands in the south. Much of the poor reef development is due to natural factors such as volcanoes, earthquakes, and tropical cyclones. On Guam, soil erosion and sedimentation from military, resort, and residential development stress corals. Near urban centers and Apra Harbor, coral reef ecosystems are degraded by sewage, thermal discharges, and port construction. In some areas tourist impacts are evident. Overfishing and overharvesting are also problems off Guam, Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. The Caroline Islands are composed of 22 groups of high volcanic and limestone islands and low coral islands. Natural disturbances to the coral reefs are from typhoons and large wave action. Human threats are beginning to affect the coral reefs and include urban pollution, overfishing, sewage discharge, and the overharvesting of shellfish. Soil erosion and sedimentation from resort and transportation projects are the greatest threats to coral reef ecosystems around Belau. The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) consist of four high volcanic islands around 31 atolls and seven low coral islets. There is internal FSM migration, and population growth and urban pollution such as sewage and garbage disposal is increasingly becoming a problem. However, since integrated coastal zone management is nascent, there are no marine protected areas. Construction of roads, ports, and airports have degraded several reefs; and overcollection and overfishing of various marine species is becoming problematic. Tourism, with its associated impacts, is a developing industry, catering mostly to sport divers. The Marshall Islands consist of low coral islets resting atop 29 atolls and five table reefs. Tropical cyclones naturally disturb the coral growth within the area but serious anthropogenic threats are also present. Mining, residual damage from nuclear testing, sewage discharge, and construction have impacted some reefs. Recent construction north of Ebeye has degraded reefs. The Republic of Kiribati is southwest of the Marshalls. Besides natural stresses such as cyclones, human impacts are slowly taking their toll. Urban pollution and construction near Tarawa, as well as overharvesting and inadequate treatment of discharged sewage are likely degrading reefs. The Republic of Nauru is very narrow with fringing reefs encircling the island. Human impacts are minimal. (Maragos and Holthus, in press).

In Polynesia, Hawaii is located in extreme geographic isolation. Natural disasters such as heavy wave action, cyclones and earthquakes disturb coral reef growth. Land clearing, agricultural development, dredging, overfishing, and tourism are some of the human factors which effect reefs. There is no comprehensive monitoring program in place to better assess the causes and consequences of coral reef ecosystem decline. The waters surrounding American Samoa are mainly dominated by fringing reefs. Crown-of-thorns starfish infestations in the late 1970s and more recent devastating storms have reduced live coral cover below normal levels. Results of recent surveys show reefs are in poor condition except for those off Olosega Island and Rose Atoll. Reef fish populations are depleted, and industrial pollution has further degraded the coral reef ecosystem in Pago Pago Harbor. The volcanic islands of Western Samoa are mostly surrounded by fringing reefs. However, much of the reef development is interrupted by constant wave action and lava flow. Some reefs in Western Samoa are affected by the agricultural industry, mining, construction, sewage, and overfishing and exploitation. The Kingdom of Tonga has 174 island and reef systems sub-divided into four north-to-south groups. Low tides, cyclones, and Acanthaster infestations affect the reefs. Pollution, causeway construction, destructive fishing techniques, sewage, tourism, and the overcollection of shellfish have degraded reefs in certain areas. French Polynesia consists of several island groups, totaling 116 separate islands and atolls. Three-fourths of the human population lives in the Leeward (Society) Islands. Severe tropical storms are disturbing and inhibiting coral reef growth. Since the population is steadily growing, many marine resources are becoming over-taxed. Overfishing, dredging, filing, construction, sand mining, sewage, industry, and nuclear testing are detrimental factors in certain areas. The Cook Islands are disturbed naturally by tropical cyclones. Most human stress to coral reef ecosystems (construction, land reclamation, and sand mining) are around the urban center of Rorotonga. Airport, hotel, and port construction have contributed to soil runoff and degraded some reefs. Tuvalu is a region consisting of low coral islands. The major source of natural disturbance is tropical storms. Islands are extremely small and are dependent on the fishing and shellfish industry. Human stress (overharvesting and some water pollution) to reefs is limited to the heavily populated Funafuti Atoll (Maragos and Holthus, in press).

Coral reef ecosystems of the Great Barrier Reef removed from human populations off Eastern Australia are healthy (Ginsburg, 1994). However, coral reefs near the coast, where over 85 percent of the coastal catchment area is under agricultural development, are being adversely affected by eutrophication (Bell and Tomascik, 1993).

Coral communities around the islands of New Zealand are not under much stress naturally or anthro-pogenically. The only potential threat is the growing problem of over-fishing, especially for spotted black grouper (IUCN/UNEP, 1988).

Human Consequences

The loss of coral reef resources in this region would have detrimental effects on the tourist and fishing industries. In addition, the exploitation of coral reef resources by foreigners could harmfully impact indigenous cultures who are closely tied to and dependent upon local coral reef resources.

Existing Management and Research Programs

The South Pacific Regional Environmental Program (SPREP) was established to help countries maintain and improve their environments and to act as a central coordinating point for environmental protection measures in the South Pacific. SPREP conducts a range of activities that address coral reef and associated ecosystems including conserving biodiversity, coastal management and planning, managing pollution, and environmental education. SPREP administers a $10-million grant for biodiversity conservation from the Global Environment Facility, which includes marine and coastal areas. The Pacific Island Network, a consortium which coordinates various agencies efforts and improves communications between U.S.-affiliated Pacific islands, promotes sustainable economic development through wise use of resources. Initiated by the Commonwealth Science Council, the South Pacific Coastal Zone Management Program provides training in coastal zone management and develops capacities to assess resources and monitor change. Coastal zone management programs have been established for Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Marianas Islands. Programs are also underway in the Marshall Islands, Western Samoa, and the Federated States of Micronesia. Thirty-one coral reef marine protected areas exist in the United States/territorial waters (Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa) 11 in Papua New Guinea, six in Tonga, five in Vanuatu and New Caledonia, respectively. Other countries have only a few protected reef areas and some have none (GBRMPA et al., in press). The Australian Great Barrier Reef Marine Park provides a good example of a multiple use park focused on protecting coral resources. The park generates over US $1 billion per year in tourist revenues.

There are a variety of research facilities scattered throughout the region. The University of Hawaii is one of several institutions in Hawaii with major coral reef research programs. Reef research is also conducted by various national and state research facilities, the East-West Center, the Bishop Museum, and others. There are several research institutions in Japan which conduct coral reef research. The most notable of these is the Sesoko Marine Science Center of the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, which has a long and well-established tradition in coral reef research. A private laboratory in Chuuk conducts reef research, including work on pharmaceuticals from coral reef organisms. On Guam, the Marine Laboratory of the University of Guam is a well-known center for coral reef research and management advice. Another major source of coral reef science has been the field laboratories in French Polynesia, such as that on Moorea. The French ORSTROM organization sponsors a major research facility and a research/public aquarium in New Caledonia. Papua New Guinea has important coral reef research institutions such as the Montipore Research Center, the Christensen Research Center, and the Lang Island laboratory. The University of the Pacific has a marine station on the Island of Dravuni near Suva. Finally, a large number of institutions in Australia have substantial reef research programs. Most notable among these are the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), James Cook University and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, all in Townsville, Queensland. Several field laboratories are scattered throughout the Great Barrier Reef, including those on Lizard Island, Heron Island and Magnetic Island. The ASEAN-Australia monitoring program has enhanced understanding of coral reef ecosystems and has conducted regional training. Several institutions on the western side of Australia have conducted important surveys and research projects on this side of the subcontinent. Early research on extreme southern reefs near Perth has been followed by increasing emphasis on the more northern reefs, particularly with respect to the establishment of extensive marine reserves in this area.

In addition to institutions with research programs on ecological aspects of coral reefs, several facilities concentrate particularly on aspects of mariculture amidst coral reefs. The Solomon Islands is the site of the Coastal Aquaculture Center of the International Center for Living Aquatic Resources (ICLARM). This center conducts research on giant clams and other food organisms, and related research on coral reef ecology. Giant clam research centers also include Kosrae and the Marshall Islands. Pearl oyster research is undertaken in facilities in the Cook Islands and elsewhere. A research facility on Guam conducts reef-related mariculture research. In Belau, the Micronesian Mariculture Demonstration Center, a major research facility particularly important for its giant clam research, has recently been closed by the Government of Belau.

Preliminary Recommendations for Regional Action

In addition to the general global recommendations, we suggest the following:

Integrated Coastal Zone Management

  • There should be greater regional cooperation to regulate overfishing, destructive fishing, and commercial fishing on coral reefs, especially those of subsistence importance.
  • Areas without coral reef protected areas (the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshalls, Nauru, Niue, Kermadecs, Tokelau, Northern Marianas, Solomons, Wallis & Futuna) or those with only a few, should designate appropriate areas for conservation. Funds should be made available for the proper management of these areas that would include monitoring, enforcement, education and visitor use programs.

Capacity Building

  • Personnel should be trained in coastal resources management, reef monitoring, environmental assessment, education, and enforcement;
  • Partnerships should be improved between traditional authorities and modern government agencies/ministries; and
  • Information management should be improved to promote regional cooperation and assistance. The use of mitigation and environmental controls should be improved during coastal development projects.

Improved Scientific Understanding of Coral Reef Ecosystems

  • Overall it is estimated that only about 10 percent of the reefs in the Pacific have been visited by reef scientists. Ecological assessment of these reefs should be made; and
  • The PACICOMP monitoring network should be established (as a component of the IOC global coral reef monitoring network) and maintained.


State of the Reefs * May 1995

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