The Phoenix Islands in the South Pacific are utterly isolated, unsettled, and only recently studied. When scientists arrived there around the turn of the millennium, they were amazed to find a nearly intact & undamaged coral reef system. At the time, the Micronesian nation of Kiribati, which controls the territory, leased the reef and islands to Japanese fishermen, but some clever fund-raising and negotiating ended up declaring the entire area (roughly the size of California) a World Heritage Site and off-limits to fishing.
Despite that, the coral was nearly wiped out by the hotter-than-usual El Nino of 2002-03, which raised the ocean temp by nearly a full degree Centigrade for six months.
The great news — really the best oceanic news I’ve heard in some time — is that the coral has come back. Usually dead coral gets smothered by green algae, but the Phoenix islands’ dense population of Pacific steelhead parrot fish ate the new algae, enabling new pink coralline to form a substrate for coral regeneration.
It’s all about the fish…
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