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Coral Triangle

Overview

  • Continent
    Asia
  • Species
    Whales, Tuna, Dugong, Humphead wrasse, Marine turtles

The Coral Triangle is a marine area located in the western Pacific Ocean. It includes the waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and Solomon Islands. Named for its staggering number of corals (nearly 600 different species of reef-building corals alone), the region nurtures six of the world’s seven marine turtle species and more than 2000 species of reef fish. The Coral Triangle also supports large populations of commercially important tuna, fueling a multi-billion dollar global tuna industry. Over 120 million people live in the Coral Triangle and rely on its coral reefs for food, income and protection from storms.

Current levels and methods of harvesting fish and other resources are not sustainable and place this important marine area and its people in jeopardy. A changing climate threatens coastal communities and imperils fragile reefs. The challenge ahead is to develop sustainable solutions for the Coral Triangle’s inhabitants and protect one of the most diverse marine habitats on Earth at the same time. Together with conservation partners and the governments of the region, WWF works to safeguard this important region for its people and the world.

Happy Fish, Happy People

Thanks to a new mobile app, the process of gathering fishery data in the Solomon Islands has entered the digital age.

solomon island fishery

Species

Coral Triangle

The Coral Triangle hosts an astonishing amount of marine life. Seventy-five percent of the world’s coral species are found here—nearly 600 different species. Over 2000 different types of reef fish find refuge in these dazzling underwater gardens, and this is an important place for tuna to spawn. Whales, dolphins, porpoises, dugongs and whale sharks feed, breed and migrate in these waters. And the Coral Triangle is home to six of the world’s seven species of marine turtles.

People & Communities

Coral Triangle marine resources support the livelihoods of over 120 million people and provide food to local coastal communities and millions more worldwide. The region also holds incredible cultural diversity. There are over 2,000 languages spoken across these waters and cultures share a strong connection to the sea.

Supporting Local Conservation

In Solomon Islands, WWF supports the Tetepare Descendants Association (TDA), a group of local islanders that ensure the future of their livelihoods by sustainably managing their marine and land resources. WWF helps TDA manage its own marine reserve to monitor the reefs, patrol no take zones, collect data on endangered turtles and ensure their nests are protected.

Turtletagging and monitoring in Solomon Islands.

Turtle tagging and monitoring in Solomon Islands.

Preparing for Climate Change

WWF works with communities in the Coral Triangle to understand and plan for climate change impacts. In Papua New Guinea, WWF has started mangrove nurseries, which help protect coastlines from impacts such as sea level rise. In Solomon Islands, WWF helped a community produce a film about preparing for climate change. The film documents current scenarios and captures traditional knowledge to help create ways to adapt to climate change.

Improving Livelihoods

Donsol Bay, Philippines, attracts huge numbers of whale sharks, and locals benefit from the booming tourism industry. With WWF’s support, whale shark tourism creates jobs and provides a steady source of income for the community. In Solomon Islands, WWF helps a local community group operate a successful ecotourism venture adjacent to their own marine protected area.

WWF supports local partners who monitor and patrol marine protected areas and turtle nesting beaches. This monitoring allows local residents to benefit from the protection of these endangered species. We also support other sustainable sources of income, such as producing local handicrafts.

Threats

Coral Triangle

Fish and shellfish brought up by a trawler in Malaysia.

Overfishing, destructive fishing methods and nonselective fishing gear harm fragile reefs and devastate fish and other marine animal populations. A growing population and the effects of climate change also threaten the Coral Triangle.

Overfishing

Fishing is an essential source of income and food for the people that live in the Coral Triangle. However, fish are being depleted beyond levels from which populations can recover or the reef can sustain. Global demand for tuna drives the fishing industry to harvest at unsustainable levels and has led to an alarming decline of tuna stocks in the Coral Triangle. Grouper and snapper—essential to Asia’s booming live reef fish trade—are being depleted as well.

Live reef fish have long been traded around Southeast Asia as a luxury food item, but in recent decades such trade has expanded rapidly. As much as 50% of reef fish are taken from the water before they have had an opportunity to reproduce, which has serious consequences on the marine environment.

Caged fish part of the live reef fish trade in Sabah, Malaysia.

Caged fish part of the live reef fish trade in Sabah, Malaysia.

Destructive Fishing

Destructive fishing methods, such as cyanide poisoning and dynamite fishing, are still widely practiced. Blasting destroys over 200 square feet of coral reef at a time, which leaves behind empty craters devoid of life. The practice devastates reefs and kills animals that live around them. Cyanide stuns fish without killing them, leaving them unable to move and easy to catch in a net or even by hand. As a result, fish populations and the local communities whose livelihoods and health depend on the fish are negatively impacted.

Every year millions of pounds of non-target fish species are caught in gillnets, on longlines and in trawls, and then discarded back into the sea. Whales, dolphins, sharks, seabirds and marine turtles are often accidentally caught and suffer as well. In the Coral Triangle, the impacts of such bycatch are devastating, particularly to endangered marine turtles and sharks, and juvenile fish. Fishing gear is not selective in what it catches and there is a lack of management and policy to adequately address the issue.

Coral Triangle

Bleached coral in Papua New Guinea.

Climate change affects coastal ecosystems in the Coral Triangle through warming, rising seas and ocean acidification. Widespread coral reef bleaching, sea level rise and seawater acidification endanger marine animals like reef fish and marine turtles, negatively impact local livelihoods such as fishing and tourism, and threaten a critical supply of protein for more than one hundred million people.

Reef-building corals cannot survive if the water keeps warming. Corals rely on algae living inside them to supply them with food. These algae, which create the brilliant colors of healthy coral, die if the water gets too hot. The loss of the algae leaves the coral with a bleached appearance and leads to starvation.

Not only are ocean waters warming, but they also absorb more carbon dioxide (CO2)—a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. CO2 alters the ocean’s pH balance, which makes it more acidic and toxic to some marine organisms. Shellfish and corals are extremely vulnerable to ocean acidification because it interferes with their ability to form hard skeletons. Climate change also causes sea levels to rise—a big threat to coastal communities in the Coral Triangle, as well as to beach-dependent species such as marine turtles.

What WWF Is Doing

Coral Triangle

WWF demonstrates how a bycatch de-hooker works to a longline tuna fishing boat crew in Indonesia.

Building Sustainable Fisheries

WWF works to create sustainable reef fish and tuna fisheries, and help them achieve certification by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). We also strengthen fishing regulations and compliance and improve fishery management plans through collaboration with the private sector and governments. For example, through the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) we work with scientists and companies that sell tuna to protect the Coral Triangle’s tuna stocks and reduce bycatch. We also promote increased production of reef fish from sustainable aquaculture sources (fish raised in farms) to ease the strain on endangered wild stocks.

Preparing for Climate Change

Man planting mangroves

Here a man is planting mangroves. Mangroves are significant because they keep the rivers healthy and release important nutrients into the water.

Mangroves are trees and shrubs that grow in coastal areas. They protect shorelines in the Coral Triangle from storm surges and erosion, which are essential in the face of future climate change impacts. WWF supports mangrove reforestation in many areas to reduce coastal communities’ vulnerability to climate change impacts. There are other added benefits as well. For example, mangrove nurseries provide income to local communities in Papua New Guinea. The replanted mangroves in the Philippines have led to the return of juvenile fish and crab species, improved water quality, and increased wildlife populations.

WWF also works to protect marine areas from overfishing and other stresses so that they have a better chance of recovering from climate change impacts such as coral bleaching. Some fish can actually help coral reefs recover after damage from bleaching events. As corals try to rebuild, they compete for space with seaweed. Colorful parrotfish graze on seaweed, which gives corals more room to grow and repopulate. The humphead wrasse also helps coral reefs recover; these enormous fish feed on crown-of-thorn starfish, which eat corals.

Creating Protected Areas

WWF works to create a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Coral Triangle. MPAs protect coral reefs and sea grass beds from destructive fishing practices and other unsustainable activities. They also allow damaged areas to recover, which is important for resilience against climate change. Protected areas allow fish to reproduce and grow to their adult size. This enables depleted fish populations to recover and increases fish catches in surrounding fishing waters. They provide refuge for other marine species too, such as endangered marine turtles and dugongs. WWF works to ensure protected areas are designed and managed well. We monitor fish spawning areas and the health of coral reefs, and study the impacts of protected areas on local communities.

Protecting Marine Turtles

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), New Britain, Papua New Guinea.

WWF works to protect turtle nesting beaches and supports the monitoring of nest sites by local rangers. We create local awareness of the threats marine turtles face and work with local communities to reduce turtle harvesting and local trade. Exploitation of turtles is often driven by a lack of economic choices. WWF works to develop alternative livelihoods so that local people are no longer dependent on turtle products for income. We also work to reduce bycatch of turtles in fishing gear through promotion of “circle” hooks and turtle excluder devices in nets.

To reduce bycatch—the accidental capture of non-target marine animals in fishing gear—WWF promotes the use of alternative fishing hooks (“circle” hooks) and advocates for the use of special devices that exclude turtles from fishing nets. So far, WWF is having great results testing circle hooks in Papua New Guinea. Bycatch has been reduced and fishermen find the new hooks perform better than traditional hooks. We also aim to secure stronger policies and regulations on bycatch throughout the Coral Triangle so that alternative fishing gear can become standard practice across the region.

We run an international competition called Smart Gear to attract creative new ways to solve bycatch problems and to advance those ideas. Winning devices have been designed to minimize the bycatch of turtles on tuna longlines and help turtles avoid gillnets. We also work with fishermen to help them save turtles caught in fishing gear.

Projects

  • Monitoring Coral Reef Health in Indonesia

    Off the tip of the Bird’s Head Peninsula of West Papua, Indonesia lie the islands of Raja Ampat, a marine oasis within the Coral Triangle. WWF Marine Conservation Biologist Helen Fox is part of a project to monitor coral reef health in Raja Ampat, in collaboration with Conservation International (CI) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

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