Scientists have discovered a refuge for coral reefs, where species are thriving despite warming events that have killed other corals, off the coast of Kenya and Tanzania.
Researchers believe its location in a cool spot in the ocean is helping to protect it and the surrounding marine life from the harmful effects of the climate crisis. The coral sanctuary is a wildlife hotspot, teeming with spinner dolphins and boasting rare species, including prehistoric fish and dugongs.
The study was published this month in Advances in Marine Biology. Tim McClanahan, the author has been looking for coral sanctuaries in the west Indian Ocean for more than a decade.
“I’m very excited about it,” McClanahan said. “It gives us something to hope for. Some good news in gloomy times.”
Marine biologists are scouring the ocean to find and protect coral refuges which are areas where reefs have the best chance to survive the climate crisis.
McClanahan, the lead scientist for the Wildlife Conservation Society, said he had an “epiphany” when he realised why the reef was so rich in wildlife. The coastline has the highest density of dolphins in east Africa, and coelacanths, fish once believed extinct, swim in its deep waters. “I thought ‘why are all the animals here?’ And I realised it was because of Kilimanjaro,” he said.
The coral refuge, which stretches from Shimoni, 50 miles south of Mombasa, in Kenya to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, is fed by cool water from deep channels formed thousands of years ago by glacial runoff from Kilimanjaro and the Usambara mountains. The cool water appears to protect the corals from episodic warming events like El Niño.
“Our study shows that while warming waters may devastate surrounding reefs, this area could become an incredibly important sanctuary where marine species big and small will flock to find refuge from climate change,” McClanahan explained, “If well protected, this key transboundary marine ecosystem will remain a jewel of biodiversity for the entire east African coast.”