September 1, 2009—See undersea worlds that stand to be lost—and that six Southeast Asian governments are trying to save with their new Coral Triangle initiative to protect coastal reefs.
© 2009 National Geographic (AP)
These reefs around Bali are made up of hundreds of types of coral.
Their skeletal shapes provide abundant hiding places and homes for a large variety of marine species.
But corals are quickly affected by changes in environment.
Pollution, changes in acidity, and changes in water temperature can affect their structure and their ability to grow.
People in coastal communities rely on the ocean for their livelihood, and so the countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and East Timor recently adopted one of the most comprehensive and specific plans for ocean conservation.
The ten-year Coral Triangle initiative aims to address growing threats to the region's coral reefs, and coastal ecosystems.
SOUNDBITE (Indonesian) Marthen Welly, The Nature Conservancy, Indonesia: "The majority of the countries that are located in the Coral Triangle are archipelago countries. And with the effect of climate change, where the ice is melting and the sea surface temperature is increasing, these islands are under threat. "
The Nature Conservancy - Indonesia prioritizes its work in several locations in the country, including the Penida islands near Bali.
Penida's local residents depend on the ocean and their income is mostly from seaweed farming and marine tourism. Seaweed is harvested every 35 days and provides farmers with an above average income.
The farms are increasing while the coral near the beach is slowly being destroyed.
SOUNDBITE: (Indonesian) Marthen Welly, The Nature Conservancy, Indonesia: "There are two main causes of coral damage. One, caused by humans is the destructive fishing, catching fish with destructive ways, using explosives and poison such as potassium and cyanide. And this practice is happening in almost all southeast Asia, and Asia pacific countries. But the most threatening factor is climate change which has caused coral bleaching."
Tourists are also responsible for damaging the coral by touching, stepping on and sometimes breaking and collecting the coral.
Conservationists are closely monitoring coral conditions.
They observe its physical condition, any increase or decrease in reefs and the impact of temperature change.
Changes in coral conditions lead to changes in the whole ecosystem which depends on it.
Another coastal protection initiative here is mangrove planting. Very little land protection for the coastal communities has led to severe damage from flooding, but the mangroves can lessen the impact. This region contains 51 of the worlds 70 mangrove species.
A community leader says the mangrove planting has been successful.
SOUNDBITE: (Indonesian) Kadek Dalang, Community Leader : "This area was a plain and empty area, so when the water from the ocean increased, it flooded our houses and streets. Some of the streets were damaged because of this. With the planting of mangrove trees, the damages that were caused by the floods could be reduced. The other activity is coral transplantation. We understand that with healthy coral, the water condition and circulation will be better which eventually will affect the quality of our seaweed."
The Coral Triangle contains 76 percent of all known coral species, more than half of the worlds reefs, and it is brimming with an extraordinary variety of fish because of this diversity.
If the coral is not protected, millions of people would be adversely affected.