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People & Ecosystems

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.

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African farmers currently face a crisis. Droughts and unpredictable weather, in combination with decreasing soil fertility and pests, have caused crop failure on many of the continent’s drylands.

But there are solutions—namely, low-cost farmer innovations. Chris Reij, a Sustainable Land Management Specialist with Free University Amsterdam and a Senior Fellow at the World Resources Institute, is leading the charge in this area. Reij facilitates the “African Re-greening Initiatives,” a movement that supports collaboration among partners working at the local level to help African farmers adapt to climate change and develop productive, sustainable farming systems.

Reij has received much acclaim for helping develop innovative solutions to Africa’s forests and food crises. His work has been covered by The New Yorker, The Nation, and the New York Times, just to name a few. Today, July 12th, Reij will appear on PBS NewsHour.

I recently sat down with Reij to talk about one of the most promising trends in African agriculture: farmer-managed re-greening.

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.

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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.

Reefs at Risk Revisited in the Coral Triangle

In support of this ongoing initiative, the World Resources Institute and the USAID-funded Coral Triangle Support Partnership have just released a new report, Reefs at Risk Revisited in the Coral Triangle. The report provides both a region-wide and country-level perspective on the risks to reef ecosystems.

Rio+20 has not quite concluded, but we’re rapidly approaching the end line. Somewhat unexpectedly, the Rio+20 outcome document was largely finalized yesterday afternoon. NGOs have weighed in on what this means, and most are rightfully frustrated. Almost across the board, the document is much too soft and vague to solve today’s sustainability challenges. Much of the text is merely a reaffirmation of previous agreements or worse, a regression from those agreements.

That said, we’ve believed all along that the more groundbreaking action at Rio+20 would be outside of the formal process. Certainly, after attending many side events and informal meetings this week, I’ve come across numerous examples of civil society organizations, entrepreneurs, companies, and others who are moving forward with innovative approaches to address sustainability. Perhaps more importantly, outside of Rio, many national and local governments are genuinely pushing ahead on sustainability in exciting ways.

The picture at Rio is much like the world today: complex, incremental and not rising to the challenges in front of us.

Infrastructure is essential for economic growth. But as governments debate the future of sustainable development at the Rio+20 conference, there is one infrastructure solution that can provide a good return on investment: nature.

People often don’t think of forests, wetlands, coral reefs, and other natural ecosystems as forms of infrastructure. But they are. Forests, for instance, can prevent silt and pollutants from entering streams that supply freshwater to downstream cities and businesses. They can act as natural water filtration plants. As such, they are a form of “green infrastructure” that can serve the same function as “gray infrastructure,” the human-engineered solutions that often involve concrete and steel. This example is not alone (see Table 1).

When it comes to the fate of forests, Rio+20 and the official negotiations risk becoming a side event. Instead, the main show is playing out in countless boardrooms, communities, parliaments, and villages around the world. From Brazil to Bangladesh, Canada to Cambodia, these organizations have made dramatic progress with efforts to reverse forest decline.

Of course, much remains to be done: globally, forests continue to decline at the rate of about 13 million hectares each year, according to the United Nations. But many successes help illuminate a path forward.

As the global summit in Rio approaches, negotiations are still in flux, but some ideas that could advance the global sustainability agenda are gaining momentum.

One such idea is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are emerging as a potentially significant outcome with global policy implications for the post-2015 development agenda. With the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set to expire in 2015, the idea is for governments to launch a process in Rio to develop broader SDGs that would complement or succeed them.

The MDGs have had a laudable impact on reducing the proportion of the world’s people living in extreme poverty. But they have also been criticized– fairly – for failing to address some key drivers of poverty. These include environmental issues—such as climate change and resource scarcity—that disproportionately impact the poor and most vulnerable, as well as the inequitable distribution of wealth, income, and opportunity.

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