THE CORAL TRIANGLE CORAL REEF AND FISHERIES CRISIS
Forward By Thomas J. Goreau, Ph.D.,President, Global Coral Reef Alliance/ President, Biorock International Corp/ Coordinator, United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development Small Island Developing States Partnership in New Sustainable Technologies
The Coral Triangle contains the world’s largest and richest area of coral reefs. Yet around 95 percent of the coral reefs are so severely damaged as to have lost most of their ecosystem function, biodiversity, fisheries, shore protection, sand supply, and ecotourism potential. Seventy percent of the region’s protein intake comes from fish, mostly dependent on healthy coral reefs. As the coral reefs are destroyed and vanishing the fish habitat, fish stocks, fish catches, and the food supply for hundreds of millions of people. As the corals die so does the protection of low lying shorelines from flooding by tsunamis and storm waves, the potential for keeping up with global sea level rise, the new sand to maintain beaches, the hopes of ecotourism development, and the potential for new pharmaceuticals from the richest marine biodiversity on the planet. These irreplaceable natural services can only be maintained if the damaged reefs are restored to health. The stunning beauty and variety of the Coral Triangle’s marine life was early noted by observers, looking into clear water that was then typical in places like Ambon and from samples hauled up in dredges and fishermen’s nets. Yet the first effort to describe the reefs discussed only a handful of places, and was based entirely on geomorphology, with no insight from direct first hand observation. The use of diving as a research tool was pioneered in the Caribbean and only in Jamaica did diving researcher scientists explore coral reefs before spear-fishermen had over-exploited them. By the time the first underwater researchers studied the Coral Triangle, the large fish were already largely gone. Sport divers have a far better sense of the condition of the reefs in this part of the world than scientists do, because scientific study of these reefs has been far too little and far too late.
The late Larry Smith was the most experienced live-aboard boat dive master in Indonesia, with around 50,000 dives on remote reefs from one end of Indonesia to the other. In 1998 I filmed him as he stood in front of a map of Indonesia and described his observations, right across the entire archipelago, searching for the finest coral reefs in the world, in order to bring high-end paying sport divers. Almost everywhere he went the reefs were already destroyed. When he would find untouched reefs in perfect condition and note them as places to return to, he would almost inevitably find the following year that fishermen had bombed these reefs into rubble.
Study of the reefs now amounts to finding the last disturbed remnants, since no part of the region is out of reach of fishermen’s boats, bombs, and cyanide, or the escalating threats of global warming, new diseases, land-based sources of pollution, and sedimentation from deforested lands. Consequently, it is largely futile to now start extensive monitoring of these remainders in order to try to find out if the reefs as a whole are deteriorating, yet this has remained the focus of the international funding agencies. What is really needed is not more study but large scale ACTION, training local students in the arts of ecosystem restoration, and funding them to work with communities to restore their vanishing marine habitat. Until policymakers and funding agencies place priority on training, developing, nurturing, and maintaining endogenous restoration skills, and then making sure those who have them can make a living from their knowledge, large-scale proactive management of the Coral Triangle reefs will be impossible.