In the South-Eastern region of Asia, the tropical marine waters of the Western Pacific ocean house a marine ecosystem that is considered the last great refuge in the world for coral reef and its marine inhabitants. The coral triangle lies below the waters of: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste and is considered both a breath-taking site of natural beauty and a conservative hotspot.
Home to over 600 species of reef-building coral, around 75% of known coral species and over 3,000 types of reef fish, the coral triangle is a colourful breeding ground to a variety of marine life. It’s an ecosystem of extraordinary size; at 647 million hectares it’s half the size of the United States. Around 120 million people live in the triangle area, relying on its biodiversity, particularly on its established tuna settlements for food, income, and trade.
In April 2014 the South East Asia Expedition – Survey 4 was launched in Manado, the capital of Sulawesi Island in Indonesia. As part of the Catlin Seaview Survey, this expedition’s aim was to map the entirety of the coral triangle to gain a better understanding of the infrastructure and function and therefore to enable the most effective defence against the effects global warming is having on marine life.
This survey, undertaken by scientific teams from the University of Queensland, Indonesia Sam Ratulangi University and the Indonesia Institute of Science, was completed this week in what is being considered an unprecedented project. The mapping process made use of Seaview SVII underwater cameras, which consist of 3 digital SLR cameras encased in the SVII’s globe shaped lens. This allows for 360 degree images of the coral reef to be taken while the SVII’s were driven by the divers.
The images and mapping data gathered data to be pieced together and available to view on The Global Reef Record site, allowing for many, a first glimpse into this underwater Amazon, the world’s most crucial marine breeding ground. The diversity of life is staggering; 6 of the 7 known marine turtle species live within the coral triangle, as well as whale sharks, dolphins, dugongs and porpoises, all of which may be found using the coral reef to feed, breed and migrate.
Climate change and human activity has affected nearly 40% of the world’s coral in the last 3 decades. Assuming the rate of deterioration remains steady, some marine biologists predict that most of the world’s remaining coral reef may be eradicated by the middle of this century. Dynamite fishing, a process that is still widely used today removes 200 square feet of coral reef at a time. Global warming has also created complications for coral reefs, as their survival is challenged by the increasingly warmer waters. These events have led to organisations such as WWF and the Coral Triangle Initiative creating local and global programmes to protect and sustain the coral triangle.
The range and variety of life within the coral triangle is impressive, with the coral algae creating vivid colours and developing into magnificent coral structures that sustains the lives of thousands of species. The Catlin Seaview survey aims to supply enough research material and information to continue in the conservation of this jaw-dropping site, as well as providing images of the types of life underwater and the natural beauty created below sea level.
Understanding the coral reef triangle and its biodiversity may enable better protection in preparation for future potential climate changes and enable better preservation of the coral reef, especially important as it’s the foundation of so much marine life. Both beautiful and nurturing, the coral triangle is an impressive underwater world of vivid colour and unforgettable variety.
How important is it to conserve and sustain this underwater ecosystem?