The Hot Spring, July 17, 2010
By Joseph Robertson
The great Coral Triangle, a region of coral-dense seas demarcated by Malaysia, Indonesia, Timor L’Este, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and the Philippines, is said to be 10 times as biodiverse as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. 76% of all known species of coral are found in the Coral Triangle, and warming ocean temperatures are causing advanced coral bleaching and endangering the entire regional ecosystem.
Australia is a key supporter of conservation efforts in the Coral Triangle, through the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI), but at least one scientist says the Australian management system for retaining diversity in the Triangle will not work. Professor Terry Hughes, director of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, a world leader in the field, says “There is no single recipe for how to manage a reef well and the Great Barrier Reef model is not exportable to a poor country”.
The ARC Coral Reef Centre (CECRS) is a collaboration between several research institutions and governmental bodies, aimed at fostering the best possible scientific understanding of the ecology of coral reefs and the ecological interrelationship of such natural systems and their surrounding environment.
Though the CECRS remains in need of added funding and sustained intergovernmental support, the Great Barrier Reef is an example of how coordinated conservation efforts can protect a fragile reef ecosystem from sustained environmental degradation. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority advises the Australian government on the best regulatory, environmental and zoning measures to protect and heal the largest reef system in the world.
The Coral Triangle is, however, a more complicated issue: covering 5.7 million square kilometers and incorporating more than 1/3 of all the world’s coral reefs, it includes over 600 different species of reef-building coral and more than 3,000 species of reef-dwelling fish, each of which shows different sensitivities to subtle environmental change. 75% of all mangrove species are also found in the Coral Triangle, as well as 58% of all tropical marine mollusk species and 45% of known seagrass species.
All of that biodiversity, along with 22 distinct species of marine mammals, occurs in an area that spans less than 1% of the world’s oceans. At least 97 species of Indonesian reef fish and 50 species of Philippine reef fish are found nowhere else on Earth. The value of those species to their specific habitats is, to some degree, incalculable, because their specific evolutionary qualities and habits cannot be replaced. Observing and preserving the richness of the Coral Triangle is a massive undertaking fraught with scientific and logistical complexity, and the effort requires a significant commitment of time, funding and personnel from the region’s governments.