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!