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Cycle 5 (2015 Deadline)

Study on coral reef resilience in comparative areas in south Vietnam for marine biodiversity conservation in a changing world

PI: Tuan Si Vo (, Institute of Oceanography
U.S. Partner: Mark Eakin, NOAA Coral Reef Watch
Project Dates: December 2016 - November 2019

Project Overview

This project is aimed at understanding coral reef resilience capacity in comparative areas in southern Vietnam under changing stresses (increased temperature and human activities) and developing guidelines for biodiversity conservation and resources management. To achieve these goals, the researchers will assess coral bleaching in 2016 in three representative reef areas (Nha Trang Ninh Thuan coastal waters as an example of an upwelling area, Con Dao islands in the western South China Sea, and Phu Quoc islands in the coastal Gulf of Thailand). They will also conduct studies on biological and physical features associated with coral reef resilience at the site level of each area in order to develop recommendations on possible changes in zoning and adaptive management of marine protected areas (MPAs). Studies will also be carried out on settlement and recruitment of corals and inter-population connectivity of target reef organisms among the three areas. Near the end of the project, the team will develop guidelines for the conservation of marine biodiversity in southern Vietnam to promote resilience to sea temperature changes and human activities. The U.S. partner and his colleagues will provide their experience and data, especially in nowcasting and forecasting of sea temperatures in relation to coral bleaching and other phenomena. NOAA methodology on coral reef resilience will be critical in order to ensure that data on the project are aligned with international standards.

The project will facilitate improvement of zoning and adaptive management of several protected areas, including Nha Trang Bay MPA, Nui Chua and Con Dao National Parks, and Phu Quoc MPA. The approach to be taken will involve MPA managers and local communities in implementing the project, thus helping to disseminate scientific knowledge to local officials and practitioners. The project will also contribute to the existing efforts of the Nha Trang Bay and Phu Quoc MPAs in involving the tourism sector in managing and rehabilitating corals reefs for ecotourism purposes. At the large scale, the comparative studies to be carried out on this project will also provide data on resilience among various types of reef areas, considering the connectivity of reef communities among upwelling waters and other factors.

5-618 Coral Storm Damage 5-618 Nui Chua National Park
Significant coral damage witnessed following a major storm (images courtesy of Dr. Vo).Attendees from the December 18, 2017 consultation workshop at Nui Chua National Park.

Summary of Recent Activities

In January 2018, Dr. Vo and his group completed their reassessment of coral reefs in Nha Trang and Ninh Thuan except for two sites (My Hoa and Mui Thi off Ninh Thuan), which could not be covered due to bad weather. Initial results show that physical damage in the form of massive broken corals were detected in most sites off Nha Trang, possibly as a consequence of severe storms and strong waves that hit these areas from late 2017 through early 2018. The PI notes that many crowns-of-thorns starfish were also observed at Bai Cau and Bai Nho off Ninh Thuan, and broken corals were also recorded at some sites off Ninh Thuan (Bai Mo Coi). On March 14, 2018, the team held a consultation workshop at Phu Quoc, Kien Giang Province. During the event, local government managers and tourist company representatives exchanged information about socioeconomic activities and other impacts on coral reefs in the Phu Quoc marine area and suggested solutions for each case. Project team members will be following up on each impact noted to verify and quantify them in detail. As for the genetic aspects of the project, the researchers have collected more tissue samples of corals (Acropora milepora) and fish (Siganus gutatus and Amphiprion perideraion) across the study sites as part of their effort to better define the genetic population structure of these marine species. They are carrying out pilot PCR optimization on the samples before sending them to outside genotyping services.

Additional fieldwork to reassess the coral reefs in the study areas will be conducted in the second quarter, beginning in Phu Quoc in May 2018. The team will also conduct another implementation workshop in Nha Trang or Con Dao around the same time. The genetic sampling and laboratory analysis are expected to be completed by the fall of 2018.

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