Coral Bleaching in Watamu Marine National Park

Monitoring bleaching and mortality response of corals in East Africa's oldest Marine Protected Area

Subject: Coral bleaching
Location: Watamu Marine National Park
Leader: Eric Thuranira

Protecting Coral Reefs

What is bleaching?

Coral reefs are some of the most biodiverse and productive ecosystems on earth. Under extreme environmental conditions like alteration in the sea surface temperature the intracellular zooxanthellae are expelled by the coral polyp as a stress response which makes it appear white. The white, unhealthy corals called bleached corals become weak and eventually die due to the heat stress.

What does our study show?

Due to the changes in climate, it is expected that these events will become much more common in the future, with many areas expected to get annual severe bleaching events by 2100. The A Rocha Kenya marine team has been studying the coral reef for the last 10 years. During the 2013 and 2016 bleaching events, there were low levels (<10%) mortality for most corals. This gives some hope that Watamu’s corals may be adapting to better cope with heat stress, but as these events were not as hot as 1998, this was not certain.

In 2020, the reefs are bleaching again and the A Rocha team, in partnership with KWS, are back out on the reef.

Watamu Marine National Park

A Rocha Kenya marine team has been studying coral reefs in Watamu Marine National Park for the last 10 years.

We use permanent quadrats, where the same patch of reef is photographed every month during the event, and the fate of each coral is observed from bleaching response to eventual mortality or survival.

Dr Benjamin Cowburn, Cefas, UK Marine Scientist and A Rocha Marine Team member

Bleached Coral

In 2013 and 2016, there was low mortality levels for most corals (<10%).

Reef scene at Uyombo

There are hopeful signs

Project in partnership with