Why the Coral Triangle Needs to Be Protected
The Coral Triangle—which encompasses the tropical marine waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste—is recognized as the world’s epicenter of marine biodiversity. In fact, even if it only covers 1.6% of the Earth’s entire oceanic area, the Coral Triangle is home to approximately 76% of the world’s entire coral species, 37% of the global coral reef fish species, and 56% of coral reef fish species in the Indo-Pacific region.
Dubbed as the “Amazon of the Seas,” the Coral Triangle is a global priority for conservation, as its natural beauty and riches are threatened by climate change, overfishing, extractive industries, and poor governance, among others. This is among the primary reasons why the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA) is working together with different groups across the world to protect and preserve the ecological health and the economic potential of the Coral Triangle.
Protection of Livelihood and Food Sources
Apart from hosting thousands of species of marine life, including 6 of only 7 kinds of marine turtles, the Coral Triangle is also home to the world’s largest area of mangrove forests. Mangroves are the habitat of different species of fish, crab, shrimp, and mollusks, which are a significant food source for most of the world’s population. Mangrove forests likewise support many other wildlife populations.
The dense root systems of mangrove forests also act as a sediment filter, which protects coral reefs and sea plants from being smothered. Mangrove roots also prevent erosion from huge waves and storms, thus stabilizing the coastlines. Indeed, areas where there is a marked decline in mangrove population suffer from significant coastal damage due to hurricanes or typhoons.
Finally, mangrove wood is very resistant to rot and to infiltration by most insects, making it an extremely valuable resource in the construction industry. Coastal and indigenous communities actually depend on mangrove wood not only for construction but also for fuel in the form of wood chips or charcoal. Other parts of the mangrove tree are also used for animal fodder and medicinal purposes.
Fish and Coral Reefs
The wealth of seafood caught in the Coral Triangle alone provide nutrition for nearly 1 billion people in the world. The fishing industry also exports $1 billion worth of tuna yearly, which powers local economies within the Triangle. More than 120 million people, 2.25 million of which are fisherfolk, also directly depend on the Coral Triangle for sustenance and livelihood.
Similar to mangroves, coral reefs also help protect coastlines from the damaging effects of waves and storms. Healthy coral reefs also serve as spawning grounds of fish, in addition to being a source of nitrogen and other nutrients that help marine ecosystems thrive. These diverse resources help fuel a nature-based tourism industry, which brings in $12 billion yearly.
Threats to the Triangle
Apart from economic and ecological benefits, coral reefs also provide a wealth of scientific information. The study of the Coral Triangle, in particular, where it is believed that coral reefs began, is essential in providing a clearer historical picture of the sea and its denizens.
However, rising water temperatures, sea levels, and ocean acidity—the effects of climate change—are having a negative impact on the Coral Triangle and reefs all over the world. Overfishing and destructive fishing techniques like cyanide fishing are also depleting fish stocks. The reduction of fish populations, in turn, slows down the recovery period of coral reefs, which suffer from bleaching and from being infested by invasive species.
There is hope in the horizon for the Coral Triangle, however, as some coral species here are seen to be more resilient to the effects of climate change. The scientific community is hopeful that certain characteristics of Coral Triangle reefs, if and when determined, may help boost resilience of other coral reefs.
This isn’t to say that we, as a global community, should stop developing efforts and measures to help protect the Coral Triangle. In truth, people are the most valuable resource in achieving sustainability and in preserving the natural beauty and resources within the Coral Triangle. Likewise, we are also the ones who will reap the most benefits if we succeed.
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