In all the blue waters that encircle our planet, there is a place, nestled in the heart of the Asia Pacific, that harbors more than 75 percent of all known coral species. An underwater forest of kaleidoscopic beauty, teeming with fish, marine mammals and vibrant coral reefs. This is The Coral Triangle.
Between the southern tip of Asia and northern Australia, hundreds of miles of coral reef bind six island nations – Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.
From sea turtles to island families, life here depends upon the reefs for survival:
- The coral reefs of the Coral Triangle are nurseries, feeding grounds and home for nearly 40 percent of the world’s reef fish species. Food for whales, dolphins, manta rays and hordes of other marine mammals.
- The reefs also provide livelihoods to 126 million people and feed millions more. They lure tourism dollars, generate export revenue and buffer coastal communities from the onslaught of tropical storms.
From this treasure trove of life, tiny coral animals drift from reef to reef on ocean currents as far away as Hawaii, infusing reefs along the way with new genetic material. Scientists have traced the origins of today’s Great Barrier Reef to the Coral Triangle. This is the very cradle of Earth’s coral reef diversity.
But the Coral Triangle is in Trouble
Overfishing and highly destructive techniques, such as explosive and cyanide fishing, are depleting fish stocks to levels that may be unable to recover.
Rising water temperatures, sea levels and ocean acidity – effects of climate change – are disturbing coral reef habitats around the world. Scientists estimate that we could lose up to 70 percent of our planet’s coral reefs over the next 50 years.
Despite mounting threats, there is hope. The reefs of the Coral Triangle have survived for millions of years. Some coral species are weathering the effects of climate change surprisingly well, raising hope among scientists that the Coral Triangle harbors secrets that can help boost resilience of coral reefs elsewhere.
The greatest source of hope in the Coral Triangle is the people, who depend upon it so heavily. The region’s citizens are realizing what’s at stake and looking for solutions.
The Nature Conservancy is Helping
The Nature Conservancy has been working to protect this irreplaceable world wonder for more than 15 years.
Our key strategy: accelerate the development and effective management of Marine Protected Areas that are resilient in the face of climate change, places that are so ecologically important that they are set aside from intensive human use.
Our experts believe this is the best way to protect biodiversity and marine-based livelihoods, including fishing and sustainable tourism.
We also share our data and expertise with local governments and fishers to educate and motivate them to create policies that encourage sustainable use of marine resources outside the officially protected areas.
With science as a guide, it is possible to achieve a balance between short term income needs and the long term preservation of fisheries.
Our growing list of high priority areas in the Coral Triangle includes:
- Wakatobi National Park
- The Raja Ampat Islands
- The Derawan Islands
- Kimbe Bay and the Bismarck Sea
- Solomon Islands
In each of these places and beyond, we have forged strong partnerships with communities, industries and decision-makers. We have amassed a wealth of rigorous research. We are attracting much-needed funding, helping people carve out sustainable livelihoods, and raising awareness and national pride through outreach. And we are getting results.
But we must do more. Only 2.6 percent of the Coral Triangle’s reefs are currently protected. The Conservancy aims to protect five times that amount in the next decade.
Find out how by diving deeper.
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See a spectacular underwater photo slideshow of the Coral Triangle shot by photographer Jeff Yonover.