Naitauba Reef Update - The State of the Reef After Cyclone Winston, Part I

Cyclone Winston hit Naitauba almost four months ago - in its aftermath a lot of our time and energy was dedicated to repair the damage it caused to roads, utilities and marine transportation and to provide safe shelter for all the residents on the Island after so many buildings had been damaged by the cyclone.

It is only gradually that we are getting a picture of the impact of the cyclone on the reef. Our most recent outing was offshore from Lion’s Lap, a more remote part of the Island. One major observation that we made so far is that the impact of the hurricane on the reef varies significantly in different sections of the reef.

On many parts of the reef, and in particular, the shallower parts, its force was like its effect on Naitauba's forests, shattering in its power. Some of the shallow patch reefs showed major damaged —large areas of branching coral were reduced to rubble. Coral is brittle, and the strong currents, surges, and wave action of the hurricane broke coral formations. The damage impacted corals ranging from the delicate branching corals on up to large coral heads that were broken off, knocked over, or lifted up by the force of the storm. Many coral heads several feet across are now seen upside down on the lagoon floor or lying on other corals, like upturned tables.

Branching coral reduced to rubble

Massive coral formation over 6 feet in diameter lying on its side

Winston's powerful wave action and surges hit this coral like an underwater earthquake, reducing much of it to rubble. Many of the broken pieces remain alive--we will have to see whether they can survive in this condition.

Fragments of coral broken off by Winston that remained alive so far in a new location

Live coral sprouting new polyps and growing in the midst of a patch of coral rubble left by TC Winston. The new growing tips are brightly-colored due to pigments contained in the new coral tissue. We will be maintaining our efforts for the reef as we watch these signs of re-growth and resilience.
One very large coral head more than seven feet in diameter had been rolled on its side.  Also many coral formations were broken from their bases and lying upside down on the bottom. We saw a massive coral formation over 6 feet in diameter lying on its side, like a giant mushroom. It was very sobering.

But when we went out into the lagoon on the eastern side of the island, the corals in those deeper waters weren't so badly hammered. Perhaps since the east side is accustomed to frequent storms, the impact was less dramatic and visible there. However we did find a coconut palm, complete with its root ball, standing on the bottom in 20-foot deep water next to some coral formations about 100 meters offshore from Adi Da’s original "My House" at Lion's Lap.

Coconut palm, complete with its root ball, standing on the bottom in 20-foot deep water

Another observation is that the fish populations are obviously impacted by the damage to the coral, but we are still seeing good numbers of large fish in the places we’ve gone. The photos below include a school of snub-nosed pompanos. When they swam up closer to check us out, their smooth and effortlessly graceful movement together was a deeply-moving sign of the persistence of life on the reef, even under these new and rapidly-changing condition

School of snub-nosed pompanos


We are preparing a second part of the update with more observations and photos of the state of the reef - please check back soon!

Relief Support Efforts For Naitauba Affected by Cyclone Winston

The strongest cyclone in recorded history hit Fiji yesterday. The Island of Naitauba has been utterly devastated, crucial structures have been destroyed, but thankfully everyone on the island is safe, there have been no injuries. Communication with Naitauba is limited to satellite phone as power and internet are down. If you would like to help please consider making a donation through the website below. It will help us to assist our friends on Naitauba with their most urgent needs. We will keep updating details about the destruction caused by Winston as we receive more information directly from the island.



March 2015 - El Nino arrives on Naitauba

Over the past five years, we have witnessed and documented a period of almost unbroken re-growth and recovery on Naitauba’s reef. Coral and fish populations have been growing for well over a decade following the severe coral bleaching incidents that damaged much of the reef in 2000 and 2002.

It has seemed that global warming has been somehow miraculously “on hold”, letting us glimpse the richness and extraordinary regenerative capabilities of this living reef system. Still, we have known all along that this fortunate period of benign weather and sea conditions would likely not last forever.

A major change is underway now. Key cycles in Pacific Ocean currents and weather are moving into a new phase. “El Nino” conditions have now been confirmed across the Pacific, and are expected to extend into the Northern Hemisphere summer.

We saw early warning signs back in January, 2014, with a long string of hot sunny days and flat calm seas that heated the surface waters of the lagoon to the point that we began to see coral bleaching in many parts of the inner reef.  

In March, 2014, measurements across the Pacific revealed that the heat content of the Pacific Ocean had reached the highest levels recorded since comprehensive measurements were begun in 1979. Since then, we have been watching and waiting to see what all this will mean for Naitauba’s reef, and for the coral reefs of the world.

This year, the pattern continues to unfold. For the first time since 2009-2010, El Nino conditions have returned to the Pacific.

For Naitauba, once again we are experiencing a steady string of intensely hot sunny and calm days that began in February and is continuing into March. The relentless heat of the sun warms the lagoon waters and raises the temperature above tolerable limits for reef-building corals. The symbiotic algae within the coral tissues are expelled, and only the white coral skeleton remains. The coral is “bleached”, and if temperatures remain high, will die.
Now, snorkeling inside the lagoon, we are seeing dramatic signs—extensive bleaching of sensitive coral species on the shallower areas of inner lagoon patch reefs. And the hot days are still continuing.

With scuba gear recently acquired with the help of contributions from our supporters, we have been able to go outside the reef to look at the outer reef slopes.

So far, the outer reef slopes are relatively unaffected by the buildup of heat that is impacting inner reef areas.

The photos that we are including with this update show the dramatic contrast between the still-healthy corals of the outer reef slopes and the stark white skeletons of damaged coral areas inside the reef.

We can see that we have a lot to learn about how warming trends will affect the reef, and how the reef will respond.

We offer our thanks to our supporters and steady contributors. Your donations through the website are enabling us to get out on the reef equipped to dive and see what is going on.

We are in active dialogue with the USP reef team regarding our next steps in working together with them.

Thank you all for your support!!!

Healthy corals of the outer reef slopes - they display no signs of bleaching yet.

The white areas in the photo above show the areas affected by bleaching. If warm temperatures persist the coral dies.

Healthy corals of the outer reef slopes - they display no signs of bleaching yet.

The white color of the corals is due to bleaching because of the prevailing El Ninco conditions. We saw extensive bleaching on the shallower areas of Naitauba's inner lagoon patch reefs.

Stark white skeletons of damaged coral areas inside the reef.

January 2015 - Update on the reef study process

First, we want to begin this update by offering our sincere thanks to everyone who has helped this remarkable process to manifest and grow. The strength of your response has given us the confidence and inspiration to keep moving forward, and your expressions of support and encouragement keep the absolute importance of the entire process always before us.

Since the visit from the University of the South Pacific’s reef team in September, we have been working to integrate what we learned and look ahead toward our next steps. During their visit, Cherie, Lai, and Ben not only carried out their surveys on the reef, they also helped to open up a dialogue about making sure that all Island residents and staff are fully educated and comply with sustainable fishing practices on the reef. This is an essential dimension of our care for the reef now and into the future.

The reef team completes the first phase of their study of Naitauba’s reef

With much-appreciated support from many contributors around the world, the USP team completed an intensive one-week survey visit to Naitauba’s reef in early September. They worked very hard throughout their time and were able to complete the full survey at sites all the way around the Island, encompassing all the many habitats that make up the totality of the reef.

Island residents joined them on their dives inside and outside Naitauba’s reef, opening new vistas and new understanding of the work ahead.

"Preserving a reef" is a vast undertaking, and as we continue to learn from Naitauba's reef and the reef research that is being done globally, we can see that the footprint of humanity on the coral reefs of the world is much deeper than we have recognized.

During this brief intensive visit we took well over 2000 photos, and the team logged pages and pages of data from their observations on their transect survey dives. There is so much to look at and consider from all the data and many photos!

Help us bring the USP team back to Naitauba

Aerial view of Naitauba's reef


At this very moment, we are making arrangements for the USP (University of South Pacific) reef team to return to Naitauba to help us in our mission to monitor, understand, and help preserve Naitauba’s reef.

The team will be visiting Naitauba for two one-week visits approximately four months apart. The first phase of their work will commence during September’s cool weather conditions as they repeat the survey of fish, coral and invertebrate populations at key areas around the reef that they carried out in 2012. This visit, now scheduled for September 10th through 16th, will uncover more about the trends on the reef over the past two years.

Naitauba's sea temperature monitoring program underway! - Part II

With two men in the boat and three in the water, anchoring the loggers in place was a great chance to develop teamwork. We had pre-planned as much as we could, but coordinating everything from with free-divers at 10 meters depth was a real learning experience, especially at our first location outside the reef. Fortunately, weather and sea conditions cooperated beautifully, with excellent visibility.

Installation of Onset’s HOBO data loggers on Naitauba’s reef

Our anchors were cement-filled cinder blocks, with rope handles and a tether rope for lowering them. We added some floats to help us maneuver them down into position.

Naitauba's sea temperature monitoring program underway! - Part I


With our Onset HOBO data loggers in hand and ready to go, the next challenge quickly emerged―we needed to place them securely on the reef and make sure we will be able to find them again when it’s time to retrieve their precious data.

We wanted the initial monitoring sites to give us the fullest representative picture of the entire reef possible.

We decided to measure sea temperatures outside the reef on the two opposite ends of the Island―the exposed eastern side, facing the oncoming trade winds, wave action, and currents,  and the more sheltered western side.

We also decided to place loggers at sites inside the reef, too, in accessible locations that are easy for us to re-locate so that we can check them frequently and so remain vigilant for rising temperatures that could threaten the reef.  

We chose a sunny Saturday afternoon for the installation. We took our underwater camera to document the process, and have included a small sample of the resulting images here...

January 2014 Update - Underwater slideshow

Play slideshow
(Music by John Wubbenhorst:
One of the joys of underwater photography is the magical moment when one discovers sea creatures so focused in their own activities that they do not notice the presence of the photographer.
The images in this slideshow were taken while snorkeling along an underwater ridge in about 10 feet of clear water. A cloud of stirred-up sediment rising from the bottom drew us to explore its source. We found a large old ray quietly churning across the silt-covered bottom, finding his food and creating a plume that drifted off with the gentle current.

May 2013 Update - Preserving a reef! How would you even start? Part II

In our April update we started taking a look at some of the different aspects involved in our efforts to monitor and preserve the coral reef around Naitauba Island. This month we are continuing our glimpse "behind-the-scenes":

We’ve worked out a simple system for labeling and archiving our photos, and have started a fish identification archive to document the fish species that we are able to photograph and identify.

The following are a few samples:

April 2013 Update - Preserving a reef! How would you even start? Part I

The USP reef team’s visit to Naitauba last year was an eye-opening opportunity for Naitauba Island resident staff to participate with the team and get a glimpse of a treasure beyond description—a treasure that we must protect and preserve in perpetuity, as fully as can be done. (Sadly, the challenges are severe. Some predictions say that within the next 50-100 years, coral reefs could all be destroyed by a combination of global warming, ocean acidification, and other forms of human interference.)

December 2012 - Review & new plans

2012 was a year of new beginnings for the Naitauba Reef Preservation Initiative, and we want to take this opportunity to thank the individuals who helped make it possible. Your support has been especially helpful as it has given us a chance to make new friends who have given us a fresh view of the reef. Now, we need to gather our resources again and make plans to move forward in 2013.

October 2012 - Unusual sign of reef diversity...

On one of the patch reefs off the Wharf we recently made a special find. At first glance it might even look like modern art... but is actually a computer keyboard likely washed into the lagoon during Hurricane Tomas. It has been richly decorated with colorful coralline algae, tiny new coral colonies, bryozoans, and a host of other living things, an unusual sign of the richness of Naitauba's reef!

August 2012 - Outlook

Looking back at the survey team's visit in June, we all feel that it is just the beginning of an ongoing relationship with the survey team and the University. The team members had many useful observations about the state of the reef, and can see many directions to explore regarding ways to support its growth and well-being.

July 2012 - Survey update

The survey team from the University of the South Pacific (USP) was able to be here on the Island for nearly a week, and were joined in by service retreatants Roger Tonkin, Grace Cameron, and Marco Tellier, who provided invaluable help in the process. With help from Island management, retreat staff, and members of Naitauba's Fijian staff, and with use of a newly-refurbished punt provided by Island manageement for their use, the team quickly set about their work.

The survey team with participating retreatants and Island residents.

June 2012 Update - The survey begins

The survey begins! We are happy to report that the survey team from the University of the South Pacific arrived on Naitauba this week to assess the state of the reef around the Island.

On June 15th, the seven-person survey team, along with Roger Tonkin, left Suva by ferry boat to Taveuni, and on Sunday afternoon, June 17th, arrived on Naitauba aboard the Turaga Dau Loloma, the Island's ferry boat, which made a special trip to pick them up.


Further updates on the visit will follow soon!