Marine Scientists Quantify Life Under the Sea

Understanding underwater baselines in the Coral Triangle

coral reef

Flores Sea, Indonesia

A team of researchers from the Indonesian government, WWF and the Wildlife Conservation Society perches on the edge of a small dinghy in quiet water. In a coordinated series of splashes, they dive off the boat and plunge into the turquoise sea.

Over the course of a research expedition in March 2014, the team records thousands of individual soft and hard corals, parrot fish, small coastal sardinellas, groupers, spinner dolphins, black-tipped reef sharks—and more.

Every biologically indicative detail is carefully recorded. Locations and distances are noted via transect lines draped over the seafloor. On each successive dive, the hard scientific evidence grows.

The results? From among the 24 families of fish the researchers were seeking, 177 species were identified. Reef sharks, spinner dolphins and economically important fish like groupers and snappers were abundant. There were 25 species of parrot fish in just 25 sites.

By studying the seafloor and establishing ecological baselines, WWF is able to measure changes in biodiversity, and to understand how species and ecosystems respond to both threats—including poor fishing practices, pollution and coral bleaching—and conservation initiatives.

“What we are really trying to get at,” says Dr. Gabby Ahmadia, a WWF senior marine scientist, “is an understanding of the benefits of conservation interventions in protected areas. With research like this, we have a baseline to help us see when those efforts are working, when they aren’t working, and why.”

Learn more about the Coral Triangle.

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