Roughly 75 percent of the Caribbean's coral reefs are threatened--with more than 30 percent ranking in the "high" or "very high" threat category. But one reef system in Cuba, Jardines de la Reina (the "Gardens of the Queen"), offers great lessons—and hope—for effective coral reef management.
WRI co-hosted a dinner last week to honor Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for advancing sustainability, especially in the Coral Triangle. The event took place at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York City, where more than 300 guests from government, business, and the non-profit sector gathered to recognize Indonesia’s president.
WRI’s president, Andrew Steer, opened the event by reminding guests that President Yudhoyono is a “different kind of leader.” Earlier in his career, Steer spent eight years in Indonesia, and he’s seen firsthand how the country has approached its economic and environmental challenges.
“We live in perilous times,” Steer said. “We need innovative thinking and we need out-of-the-box thinking. Today, we have a leader who is an out-of-the-box leader.”
The Coral Triangle, an area stretching from southeast Asia to the edge of the western Pacific, is one of the most biologically diverse marine regions on earth. The area holds 30 percent of the world’s coral reefs and 75 percent of all known coral species. The region’s coral reefs provide food and livelihoods to more than 130 million people living within the Coral Triangle, as well to millions more worldwide.
Despite its importance, the Coral Triangle is the most endangered coral region on earth, with 85 percent of its reefs threatened by local activities like overfishing and destructive fishing, coastal development, and pollution. WRI and partners recently released a new report documenting this situation, Reefs at Risk Revisited in the Coral Triangle. The report provides both a region-wide and country-level perspective on the status of and threats to coral reefs off the coasts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste. It also calls attention to the vulnerability of coral reefs in the Coral Triangle and factors leading to degradation and loss. The report aims to set priorities for management of reefs in the region.
This slideshow highlights images from the Reefs at Risk Revisited in the Coral Triangle report. Scroll through the photos and maps to learn more about the value coral reefs have for countries in the Coral Triangle, the threats reefs face, and actions that can help protect these vital ecosystems.
Ever wonder how coral reefs contribute to the economy and human health? Or how 60 percent of these "rainforests of the sea" came to be so threatened by local activities? Or what, exactly, a coral polyp is? WRI's Reefs at Risk team, along with two renowned ocean advocates, have the answers to these questions and many more in the new video, Coral Reefs: Polyps in Peril.
WRI worked with Céline Cousteau, founder of CauseCentric Productions and granddaughter of ocean explorer, Jacques Cousteau; and Jim Toomey, creator of the Sherman’s Lagoon comic strip, to create the video. Through Cousteau’s narration and Toomey’s colorful fish animations, viewers can learn about the vital role reefs play in the health of the planet and important economies, the threats these coastal and marine ecosystems face, and how people can help save invaluable corals.
Coral reefs are beautiful, diverse, productive ecosystems. Many people love to marvel at these rainforests of the sea, but how much does the average person actually know about them? For example, how many people know whether a coral is a rock, a plant, or an animal?
This lack of understanding prompted WRI and partners to release a major report last year on threats facing the world’s coral reefs. The 120-page Reefs at Risk Revisited report contains a wealth of information on the world’s reefs, including a lengthy answer to the question, “What is a coral reef?” There was just one problem: Most people don’t read 120-page reports, so we needed to get the story of coral reefs out to a wider audience.
With more than 75 percent of the world’s coral species and twice the number of reef fish found anywhere else in the world, the Coral Triangle is the center of the world’s marine biodiversity. Stretching from central Southeast Asia to the edge of the western Pacific, 130 million people in the Coral Triangle region depend on marine resources for food and livelihoods. In this way, the region’s coral reefs and associated fisheries are vital to people and national economies, but they’re also severely threatened by overexploitation.
Recognizing the critical role that coral reefs play in people’s lives and the regional economy, the governments of the six countries that make up the Coral Triangle—Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste—came together in 2009 to form the largest marine governance initiative in the world, the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF). Their common goal is to manage their valuable marine resources so that they can continue to provide benefits to people in the future.
Since 1998, WRI has been using GIS (Geographic Information System) models to develop map-based assessments of threats to the world’s coral reefs. Reefs at Risk Revisited, released in February 2011, is the latest assessment in the series and is based on a nearly three-year study that produced the most highly-detailed global maps of coral reef threats to date. The study analyzed and mapped threats to coral reefs from local human activities such as coastal development, unsustainable fishing, and marine and land-based pollution, as well as climate-related threats caused by increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
This week, two of my colleagues, Ben Kushner and Lauretta Burke, travelled to Mexico and Belize, respectively, for the launch of a new multinational evaluation of reef management by governments, NGOs, and the private sector. The launch events took place in Belize City, Belize; Cancun, Mexico; Guatemala City, Guatemala; and Tegucigalpa, Honduras; and were the result of nine months of collaboration to develop indicators and gather data for this first-ever eco-audit of the Mesoamerican Reef.
The Mesoamerican Reef, the largest reef in the Atlantic Ocean, is home to over 500 species of fish and harkens back over 225 million years. The research included input from more than 40 organizations and 100 people. WRI provided technical assistance to the Healthy Reefs Initiative and local partners.
Recent news reports from Texas to Jamaica to the Bahamas have documented the rapid spread of the lionfish—an invasive marine species. Lionfish have quickly become established across the waters of the southeastern U.S. and the Caribbean. New sightings abound—earlier this month lionfish reached the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. Because of their role in upsetting the ecological balance of coral reef ecosystems, the rapid growth in the populations of these fish poses a grave threat to the region’s coral reefs. Consequently, the region’s fishing and tourism industries, which depend on coral reefs, may also be at risk. Governments across the region are trying to respond to the lionfish invasion by developing new campaigns and cooperation strategies that could pose important lessons for how to deal with invasive marine species in the future.