Libmonster ID: UA-12108
Author(s) of the publication: Yuri LATYPOV

by Yuri LATYPOV, Dr. Sc. (Biol.), Deputy Director of the Far Eastern Marine Biosphere State Natural Reserve, FEB RAS, Head of the Laboratory of Benthos Ecology, Zhirmunsky Institute of Marine Biology, FEB RAS

In April-June 2010, Pacific Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry and Zhirmunsky Institute of Marine Biology, FEB RAS, in cooperation with the Vietnam Institute of Oceanography organized an expedition aboard the research vessel Academician Oparin. The objects of the observations were the coral reefs along the coast of Vietnam, in the open seas and in the Siam Gulf. Excessive anthropogenic load made these oldest ecosystems of our planet very fragile and now, special attention should be paid to the artificial cultivation of corals among other measures for their protection and restoration.

There is a special dock in the Golden Horn Bay in Vladivostok--from it FEB RAS expedition ships sail for long voyage. Once it welcomed the corvette Vityaz on which the famous Russian explorer and ethnographer Nikolai Miklukho-Maclay, who in 1870-1880s performed studies of the indigenous population of South-East Asia, Australia and Oceania, had travelled. According to the tradition, many ships, which had been associated with the glorious pages of the history of Soviet science, had the same name. In 1957, from the board of one of the Vityaz oceanographers established the maximum depth of the Marian depression of the Atlantic Ocean--11,022 meters, and in 1949 in the area of Kuril-Kamchatka Trench, the existence of life at the maximum depths (over 8,000 m) had been proven. Later, more technologically advanced liners such as Akademik Oparin*, Akademik Lavrentyev** took over a scientific

* Alexander I. Oparin (1894-1980)--a Soviet biologist and biochemist who created the theory of the origin of life on Earth from the abiotic components.--Ed.

** Mikhail Lavrentyev (1900-1980)--a mathematician and engineer, the founder of the Siberian Branch of USSR Academy of Sciences and Novosibirsk Akademgorodok.--Ed.

стр. 44

watch over the Pacific Ocean. They were headed by the flagship of the Far Eastern Scientific Fleet Akademik Alexander Nesmeyanov* of 6,000 displaced tons, with dozens of laboratories, equipped with most modern equipment, including autonomous complex for deep-ocean exploration work. The vessel could accommodate comfortable life conditions and productive work of more than 70 scientific staff members! At these offshore research centers, domestic oceanographers, marine biologists, botanists, geographers, geologists, and chemists had conducted the most fascinating research in all areas of the World Ocean until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Now, after a long hiatus, we have finally resumed large-scale naval expeditions on board of scientific research vessels of FEB RAS. In 2010, we started pleasant, despite many troubles, preparations for a voyage, scheduled for a joint research expedition with the experts from Vietnam. It was aimed at exploration of tropical communities of the territorial waters of that country. Upon receiving the opportunity to work in any area of marine waters we were interested in, we planned to perform a repeated detailed study of the reefs that were described a quarter century ago and that were located in open sea and in the Siam Gulf. It was very

* The research vessel was named after Academician Alexander Nesmeyanov, outstanding national organic chemist, in 1951-1961 President of the USSR Academy of Sciences.--Ed.

стр. 45

exciting to observe the status of the local ecosystem over a period of time which was sufficiently long even for buildings of colonial corals.


It is noteworthy that coral reefs that have already experienced the oppression of human impacts exist under a threat of a gradual but complete disappearance on a world scale; a third of them are already in critical condition, and only 40 percent of them located near populated areas might be considered sustainable. The main cause of pollution and damage to these ancient ecosystems is dumping of terrigenous* drains into marine waters. The more intensively economic activities on the coast develop, the more clay and organic sediments enters the water, and as the result, the coral floor receives less light and gets buried under a layer of material. Intensive housing and communication construction in Vietnam combined with insufficient pace of infrastructure development of treatment facilities and environmental activities has led to the situation of environmental risk.

We got the first painful impression when we were visiting previously flourished Cu Lao Cham islands reefs in central Vietnam. They had a status of natural sanctuaries and were actively visited by divers from all over the world. Now, after the passage of typhoon Sangshen and severe flooding of 2006, one can truly state the death of this natural miracle. Following the physical destruction of a large part of coral settlements, the removal of clay material from the nearest Vietnamese coast and from the river Bung, which flows into the sea opposite

* Terrigenous sediments (from Lat. Terra-earth) are formed as a result of entering the reservoir of substances from the catchment area.--Ed.

стр. 46

the islands, had led to abundant sediment and dying of almost all other scleractinians (stony corals). At present, in places where there once had been reefs, widespread dispersal of algae and various types of alzionaria (soft corals) occurs. This algal-alzionaria phase of a succession (consistent, legitimate shift) of reef communities is typical of the period of recovery from the devastating effects of typhoons.

In the newly emerging community, along with soft corals and encrusting algae foraminifera (shells kornenozhki), bryozoans*, serpulidy** and boring clams Litophaga appear. In the initial stages of succession, these animals with skeletons, especially cortical calcareous algae, play a major role in the formation of stable substrate for coral larvae assertion and growth. After 2 to 3 years of settlements coelenterates begin to prevail noticeably, and in 4-6 years from the beginning of colonization the genus Acropora already occupy extensive areas. We believe that there is a hope for recovery of the explored reefs, for there we manage to find isolated, young, newly settled colonies of one of the Indo-Pacific mass corate--Pocillopora verrucosa.

Then, we examined the reef islands Thotyu, Con Dao and Thu, passing through the same routes as we did in 1984-1987 and we have identified no long-term cardinal changes either in the morphology of their buildings or in the composition of the community. Two types of reefs can still be easily distinguished--the structured one with a clearly pronounced physiographic zoning (the lagoon, the reeflet or the plateau with numerous cemented coral populations, etc.), and an unstructured

*Bryozoa (Ectoprocta)-type of invertebrate aquatic, mostly marine, colonial animals. Dimensions of an individual do not exceed 1-3 mm--Ed.

** Serpulidy (Serpulidae)--a family of sitting polychaete annelids.--Ed.

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one, characterized by the presence of thin cortical forms of coral settlements, which circle islands with narrow (100-200 m) fringe, bringing almost no changes to their underwater steep rocky coastal profile and the morphology of the substrate. Equally unchanged were the differences in the communities of the Namzu islands of the Siam Gulf.

We are happy to note that the reefs with moderate or weak anthropogenic impact, especially in the areas where the conservation measures have been carried out, remain in satisfactory or even optimal conditions for the existence of the communities. There, the substrate is covered with the greatest variety of live coral as well as related fauna, including fish--for example, the reefs and islands of Che Deng Hong Khanh Hoa province protected by the state, as well as the reefs Batlongvi of the Spratley archipelago. Based on the results of our investigation, the Condal island can be considered to be a successful area, an ecosystem that is not a subject to explicit human intervention and does not include mariculture farms.

Communal reefs subjected to prolonged external exposure are usually characterized by excessive withdrawal of fish and many exotic animals, which leads to disruption of natural interspecies interactions. In recent years, these ecosystems have been affected particularly negatively by the intensification of fishing and mariculture farms that introduce into aquatic environment additional organic matters and various medicinal components that might cause its eutrophication* and intoxication of hydrobionts. The reefs of Namzu islands and to some extent of the Thu island are examples of such situation.

In the coastal waters above the coral populations of the Namzu islands fishing boats, equipped with modern spinning and diving compressors with pipe equipment, swarm continuously. Thus, an unprecedented incessant selective fishing of certain species of fish, bivalves, nudi-branchial mollusks and sea cucumbers occurs. Eventually it would lead to the displacement and replacement of trophic relationships in the community. For example, the species that serve as food for shellfish, get rid of their natural enemies, and rapidly multiply, increasing the load on its own feeding base. On the contrary, organisms that feed on predatory gastropods Drupella lose their "appetites" causing the latter to constantly attack and destroy the living coral on the reef in Khanh Hoa province in places of intensive mariculture.


Numerous scientific data show a marked deterioration of coral reefs worldwide*. Obviously, it must be decided what we want to preserve--the total variety of corals on a particular reef, its fish resources or an ecosystem as a whole. Changes can occur on the individual, population, ecosystem or landscape level. The duration of these processes is different; the effect of short-term external factors can camouflage the impact of the long-term ones. If we are to properly assess the condition of ecosystems and causes of transformation of communities, we need continuous monitoring of natural and anthropogenic factors.

Many countries, including Vietnam (where the densely populated coastal cities and towns create a strong human-induced pressures on marine ecosystems), are concerned with restoration of reefs and their biodiversity; there are attempts to grow corals**. Our

* Eutrophication--enrichment of waters with nutrients, accompanied by the increase in vegetation productivity.--Ed.

See: Yu. Latypov, "Coral Reef Ecosystem", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2008.--Ed.

** See: Yu. Latypov, "Cays of Vietnam", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2007.--Ed.

стр. 48

experiments in this direction, conducted in the early 2000s, were successful, and now Vietnam partners are interested not only in the preservation of existing ecosystems, but also in the artificial expansion of the total area of the reef.

In October 2010, on one of the protected reefs, near the city of Niachanga, we installed three experimental industrial devices for growing colonies of coral fragments from 15 different species. In April 2011, we tested the flow of the experiment and we found that the results exceeded the most optimistic expectations: virtually all the colonies had grown, increasing the number of branches and overall size 1.5-1.7 times, with 5-15 new young branches formed on each parent branch.

At the end of the year, the growth of new branches has already increased by 210-275 percent. Such a successful development of the transplanted fragments and the formation of these new large colonies have created favorable conditions for the introduction there of Pomacen-tridae (Damselfish) Dascyllus reticulates, common for communities with various species of coral. They are characterized by pronounced homing (ability to find their way home), and the newly created ecosystem Dascyllus reticulates retains the same behavior as that in a natural reef: in case of a threat an entire school hides between branches. Typically, adult fish live in groups in coral bushes, and seldom sail from this "wood" further than one meter. Alas, the survival instinct, that forces Dascyllus to hide from danger in the usual place, sometimes causes its death. I have often observed as during the extraction of a coral colony fish refuse to leave it but bury deeper into the thickness of branches.

Based on the results of the experiment, the specialists of our research institute, the Vietnamese Institute of Technology and Applied Research, and of the company Sanest, i.e., the representatives of the parties involved in this work and those who provide research funding, decided on the deployment of several tens of experimental devices along the shore reef.

Of course, the success of growing coral fragments in natural environment depends on various factors in determining the role of their species and size. Acceleration of the process is promoted by good lighting and a slight presence of competitive macrobenthos. Acquired during the experiment experience is very important to us because we have learned in a relatively short time to produce a large number of different types of coral in a defined reef area. The materials of the experiment can be used not only for restoration of natural settlements, but also for the cultivation of individual specimens and colonies that satisfy the needs of collectors, and thus to reduce the risk of negative impacts on unique ecosystems. Another condition for the maintenance of their biodiversity is to create a wide network of natural reserves and national parks and possibly artificial reefs.


Humanity must realize that we have harmed coral reefs and they will not survive without our help. Their ecosystems can response positively to rescue activity of people and would benefit and bring joy of learning for all future generations. But to achieve that, the basic strategy of government organizations should be directed to the protection of the existing resources. According to scientists, the regulations of economic activities are necessary along with the education for the local people, fishermen and tourists about the real threat of the destruction of reefs to instill in people's minds a conscious and careful attitude to the national and international public domains. Experience has shown that restrictive measures applied without education and

Science in Russia, No. 1, 2012

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enlightening strategies aimed at local population who should be in charge of their natural wealth, are not effective.

It is already obvious that any large-scale fishing on the reefs leads to destabilization of an ecosystem and undermining its attractiveness. Therefore, it should be advisable to think of its banning in the protected areas. In addition, there should be more of such territories. Such practice has proved to be fruitful for the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and some islands in Vietnam. Administration of the Nature Protection Parks of Australia has implemented a zonal plan, which regulates all types of business, recreational, and construction activities. Now, in any reef area, a special permit is required even for scientific research purposes.

The listed above measures have produced positive results despite the ever-increasing influx of tourists and diving enthusiasts on some reefs in South Vietnam, associated with the impossibility to visit the favorite places of active recreation in Thailand and Indonesia after the tsunami of 2004. And I want to believe in our ability to solve the pressing environmental issues--starting with a radical change to our approach to the ocean resources' exploitation.


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Yuri LATYPOV, OUR MISSION-TO SAVE CORAL REEFS // Kiev: Library of Ukraine (ELIBRARY.COM.UA). Updated: 29.09.2021. URL: (date of access: 23.10.2021).

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