PRESS RELEASE      30TH NOV. 2016                                                                                                                                       Munene Mukaraku


Ocean temperatures are increasing globally and as result an extreme ocean warming event this year,(during May-April, 2016) placed Kenyan’s coral reefs under severe heat stress resulting in widespread coral bleaching from Vanga-Shimoni in the south to Kiunga Marine Reserve in the northern part of Kenya.Higher than average sea surface water temperatures and intensification of the El Niño Southern Oscillation Event have caused mass coral bleaching around the world in 2016.Often mass coral bleaching events are as result of the prolonged exposure of corals to unusually warm ocean temperatures, resulting in the expulsion of symbiotic algae from host corals (commonly referred to as bleaching of corals).

KMFRI scientists (lead by Jelvas Mwaura) undertook surveys on several coral reefs in Kenya during the global bleaching event in April 2016

In the last few decades, massive coral bleaching and associated mortalities events have been documented in Kenya and other parts of Western Indian Ocean during 1987, 1997/98, 2005, and 2010. In 1980s, extreme coral bleaching events were commonly observed in the Pacific ocean and in the Caribbean and its only until 1997-98, Kenyan coral reefs and elsewhere in Eastern African regions, coral reefs were severed affected, causing unprecedented bleaching and mortality of corals at 50-95% on the majority of surveyed reefs. During 1997-98 bleaching event, the sea surface temperature (SST) Maxima were elevated in February to may by 1-2 degree Celcius above normal and consequently cause severe bleaching and mortality of corals, particularly in Marine Protected Areas where coral cover and diversity is exceptionally high.

The bleaching response of corals were monitored by a team of KMFRI scientists for two months across five major reef locations in Kenya. This survey was funded by GOK through research and development budget with the main purpose of documenting extent and severity of bleaching in Kenya coral reefs as a result of unusually high seawater temperature exposure and their interaction with local human stressors. Preliminary findings of a comprehensive scientific survey examining the impact of the climate change-related 2016 mass bleaching in Kenya indicate that all reefs surveyed were affected by the event. Approximately 60% of all coral colonies assessed were bleached and up to 20% in some sites – were recently dead as result of thermal stress.

Bleaching of corals is the whitening or paling of coral tissues due to loss of microscopic symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) and/or reduction of their photosynthetic pigment concentrations, when corals gets stressed by unusual high sea surface temperatures.

The benefit of surveying and understanding the impact of bleaching event;

  • This survey was very important part of the Kenya’s Government commitment in research and response to emerging issues that are threatening the future of coral reefs and the livelihoods of millions in the coast region. In short, it has provided us with unique insight into the impacts of this coral bleaching event, and helped us understand the implications of climate change for our nation.
  • Understanding the pattern and impacts of bleaching in Kenya will help us provide useful scientific information that can guide resource managers(KWS, Fisheries department) and policy makers (county government representatives) in decision-making on with regard to alleviation of local human stressors in highly vulnerable reefs.

KMFRI scientists warn that coral bleaching event is likely to occur annually and get worse; and requires immediate attention on reef monitoring, recovery and progress to better prepare conservation and management actions to save the remaining reef corals.

For more information and to set up interviews, please contact:

  1. Jelvas Mwaura - Coral reefs Chief Researcher, Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Mobile: +254 (0) 712 705 688
  1. Munene Mukaraku - Corporate Communication Officer, Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Mobile +254 (0) 721608092