Northern Mozambique Channel may be Home to the Second Most Diverse Coral Populations on the Planet

Researchers announced this month that the results of a decade-long study show that the northern Mozambique Channel has the highest diversity of corals in the central, northern and western Indian Ocean. The researchers found that of 369 coral species identified so far in the region, sites in the northern Mozambique Channel had from 250-300 species, while sites in northern Kenya, the Gulf of Aden and the outer Seychelles islands had 200 or fewer species. The findings also suggest the total diversity of corals in the region may approach 450 species, equivalent to the Great Barrier Reef and Andaman islands, which would make the northern Mozambique Channel home to the second most diverse coral populations on the planet.
Baie D'Ambodi-Vahibe (west-inner), a site on the CI Marine RAP (Rapid Assessment Program) expedition to northeast Madagascar

Baie D’Ambodi-Vahibe (west-inner), a site on the CI Marine RAP (Rapid Assessment Program) expedition to northeast Madagascar. © Conservation International/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn

 

The study, published in PLOS ONE, was undertaken by the Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean (CORDIO) to determine the biodiversity and biogeographic patterns of coral reef species in the western Indian Ocean, which has been under-sampled to date. It also aimed to identify how the oceanography of the region, dominated by the monsoon and equatorial currents of the Indian Ocean and recently described dynamic eddies of the Mozambique Channel, creates and sustains this core region of high diversity. 

“The region’s reefs have a unique heritage, and contain many unique and old lineages of corals found nowhere else on Earth,” said David Obura, lead researcher for the study. The high level of coral diversity revealed by the researchers makes this a priority region for investments to be made by countries and the international community in ocean governance. Practical initiatives such as Seascapes for large scale marine management, and flagship ventures such as potential new World Heritage sites, can help to facilitate these investments at large scales. 
 
Inner Baie D'Ambodi-Vahibe, a survey site on CI Marine RAP (Rapid Assessment Program) expedition to northeast Madagascar

Inner Baie D’Ambodi-Vahibe, a survey site on CI Marine RAP (Rapid Assessment Program) expedition to northeast Madagascar. © Conservation International/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn

 

These reefs are severely threatened, however. The Indian Ocean in general, and the Mozambique Channel in particular, face many and increasing threats & pressures from population growth, overfishing, urbanization, oil, gas and mineral exploitation, tourism development, as well as climate change. “Coral reefs fully deserve the intensive study they received in this report, owing to their key importance to the structure and function of marine ecosystems and, equally significant, to human well-being” said Steve Katona, Managing Director of the Ocean Health Index for Conservation International. Katona added that “coral reefs of the Western Indian Ocean need careful management and protection if they are to realize their full potential for improving human well-being in this critical developing region.”

 
“Large scale partnerships are needed to strengthen the management of the region’s marine resources,” said Keith Lawrence, senior director in Conservation International’s marine program

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