When three different oceans meet around some islands it must create something special. It provides the basis for the most diverse underwater world where more marine species can be found than anywhere else on our blue planet.
This area with the highest biodiversity underwater is called “Coral Triangle” and lies in the western Pacific Ocean. It includes the waters of eastern Indonesia and Malaysia, the Philippines, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
It has not been clarified yet where the high biodiversity origins. Some believe that it is due to the overlapping faunas from the different oceans. Others think that the region is the major origin for coral reef species that dispersed to other areas from there. Geological processes like the sinking water levels during ice ages played a role in the development as well.
How many species live there?
The criteria for inclusion in the Coral Triangle are the total number of hard corals which has to be higher than 500. The number of fish species overlaps with the diversity of coral. So the area does have the largest amount of different reef fishes too. There are:
- 600 reef-building corals (76% of all known coral species)
- over 2200 species of reef fish (52% of the Indo-Pacific and 37% of the world’s reef fishes)
- six out of the seven marine turtle species
- many endemic species
- loads of critters
- and it is the greatest area of mangrove forests in the world
How big is the coral triangle?
The coral triangle covers 1.6% of oceanic waters which equals 5.7 million square kilometres (2 million sq mi). 30% of the worlds coral reefs are located here.
Why is the region so important?
The Coral Triangle serves as nursery, feeding ground and home to all the species mentioned above. The animals from the reefs are an important food source for pelagics further up the food chain like whales dolphins, sharks and rays.
Over 120 million people in the area directly depend on the resources from the reefs. In total the coral triangle supports an estimated number of 400 million people. The coral triangle generates income through fishery exports and coastal tourism.
The reefs also protect the coasts and its communities from tropical storms and high waves.
Due to these reasons the region is considered a top priority for marine conservation.
What are the threats?
Like almost anywhere these include unsustainable fishing, coastal development, population growth and the effects of climate change. In addition a huge issue in the region are highly destructive fishing methods like explosive and cyanide fishing.
An estimated 80% of the coral reefs across the Coral Triangle are at risk, over half are even at high risk. This leads to destruction of coral and is endangering species. Many coastal fisheries across the region are depleted and some even heading towards a collapse.
What is done to protect the reefs?
In response to the alarming trends the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF) was founded in 2007. It is a partnership between the six countries of the region, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Timor Leste, Papua New Guniea and the Solomon Islands, working together in order to protect the Coral Triangle.
The initiative wants to sustain the precious marine resources for the for future generations. The main actions to achieve this are priority seascapes, ecosystem approach to managing fisheries and other marine resources, marine protected areas, climate change adaptation and threatened species.
Priority seascapes: Regions which need special protection and management are chosen by the countries. For these regions a plan will be developed to sustainably manage the marine and coastal resources.
Ecosystem approach to managing fisheries: Fisheries are managed to limit their impact on the ecosystem to the extent possible, in other words sustainable fishing. The countries also work together against illegal fishing. Improving income, livelihood and security of the coastal communities through more sustainable fisheries is one of the targets.
Marine protected areas (MPA): In protected regions the coral can recover and with it the marine life around them. The reefs also work as nurseries for many fish species which will then replenish into the ocean. More fish will have a chance to grow to their adult size and reproduce. Through such initiatives the catches in surrounding waters increase to feed the local communities. In addition these areas allow endangered species a safe shelter. Marine protected areas are established at national and local levels by all CTI-CFF countries. There is now more than 1,900 MPAs covering 1.6% of the extended economic zone for the region).
Climate change adaptation: Different approaches are used for different regions. One example are mangrove nurseries. These trees protect shorelines from erosion which becomes increasingly important due to climate change. Water levels rise and land is lost to the oceans. Mangrove forests help to reduce this threat. The mangroves also provide shelter for juvenile fish leading to an increase in fish populations. The mangroves also filter the run-off from shore which can have bad effects on the coral reefs.
Threatened species: The status of threatened species like sharks, turtles, seabirds, marine mammals, corals, seagrass and mangroves is improved. One example are turtles. Beaches where turtles are nesting are protected and eggs are brought to a safe area. This ensures that the turtles hatch and find their way to the ocean. Local communities in some areas traditionally used turtle products. Projects work with the people to raise awareness and provide alternatives.
Where can I dive there?
The diving is amazing all over the Coral Triangle. The Verde Island Passage in the Philippines possibly offers the highest biodiversity. For macro fans Anilao is an amazing choice there. Other famous destinations to enjoy the high biodiversity are Raja Ampat and Komodo in Indonesia, Atauro Island in Timor Leste and Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea.
Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF). Retrieved October 11, 2016 from http://www.coraltriangleinitiative.org/
Coral Triangle. In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 26, 2016 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coral_Triangle
Coral Triangle. In WWF. Retrieved September 27, 2016 from http://www.worldwildlife.org/places/coral-triangle
The Coral Triangle. In The Nature Conservancy. Retrieved October 03, 2016 from http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/asiaandthepacific/coraltriangle/index.htm