Coral Triangle requires unique management style

Date July 9, 2009

While Australia remains committed to playing an ongoing role in assisting the six nations of the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) to protect their marine environments, a leading scientist here says that an Australian-style of management in the triangle will not work.

”There is no single recipe for how to manage a reef well and the Great Barrier Reef model is not exportable to a poor country,” says Professor Terry Hughes, director of the highly-regarded Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. The centre is a partnership of several leading universities and statutory bodies – located at James Cook University in Townsville.

The future of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR) remains uncertain: global warming threatens to devastate the GBR while other hazards such as pollution, over-fishing and tourism also exist. Nonetheless, it remains in good condition compared to many other reef systems around the world.

Central to this is the extensive protection afforded to the GBR by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. This body advises the government on matters related to the GBR and is responsible for protecting the world’s largest reef system through zoning and management plans, assessing environmental impacts and conducting research.

Hughes told IPS that Australia’s ability to fund the management of such marine environments sets it apart from developing nations.

”Australia is very much the lucky country when it comes to having the resources to manage reefs and to pay for science and reef management,” he says.

”There’s a huge contrast between Australian investment in science and reef management compared to almost anywhere else in the world because most coral reef countries in the tropics are developing countries and just don’t have the resources that we do,” he adds.

But the signing of the declaration of the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security at the CTI summit in Manado, Indonesia in May indicates that where the political will exists, less-affluent nations can also undertake action to protect their marine environments for the benefit of current and future generations.

Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, East Timor, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands – the so-called Coral Triangle Six (CT6) – have committed to cooperate to preserve the biologically diverse yet highly-populated Coral Triangle, an area which covers some 5.7 million square kilometers in Southeast Asia and Melanesia.

Although it represents just one percent of the Earth’s surface area, the triangle is home to 76 percent of coral species which support the world’s highest diversity of marine life.

The CT6 have instigated a ten-year ”Regional Plan of Action” to cover the management of marine zones, fisheries and other resources, establish marine protected areas, introduce plans to adapt to the effects of climate change and improve the status of threatened species including corals, mangroves, sea turtles, birds and sharks.

However, coral ecosystems within the ”amazon of the seas” are under severe pressure, as outlined in a joint report by conservation group WWF and the University of Queensland. The release of this report coincided with the CTI meet in Manado, which looks at the impact of climate change in the Coral Triangle.

While describing the detrimental effects on the triangle’s marine environments caused by coastal deforestation, the reclamation of wetlands for urban development, destructive fishing practices and poor water quality resulting from aquaculture, agriculture, sewerage and other pollutants, the report identifies global warming – manifested by rising sea temperatures and increased ocean acidification – as a major threat to the triangle’s biodiversity.

And with the area’s resources vital for the survival of 150 million people living in and around the coastal regions of the Coral Triangle, WWF has urged Australia to fully support the fledgling CTI.

”Australia has built considerable expertise in coral reef conservation, science and management, and could play an important role in building the capacity of Coral Triangle countries to protect these critical marine environments,” said Gilly Llewellyn, WWF-Australia’s manager of conservation.

Yet Australia is currently involved in researching marine environments in the triangle and in the Pacific region, with the Centre for Reef Studies working already in the Philippines, Indonesia, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

”The initiative is new and it’s wonderful to see it, but Australian scientists see this as an opportunity to ramp-up an existing engagement. It’s not as if we’re starting from scratch,” says Hughes.

Additionally, of the Centre’s current batch of 155 PhD students, 95 are from the immediate region. Australia was quick to pledge an initial AUD$2 million to fund critical projects within the CTI – part of the USD$300 million to be provided by the Global Environment Facility, the Asian Development Bank, the United States and other partners. The Rudd government describes the first phase of this as an ”ongoing plan” to back the CT6.

”This investment will focus on areas where we can make the greatest contribution by sharing our knowledge and directly supporting capacity building in marine biodiversity conservation, sustainable fisheries, protecting vulnerable marine species and community empowerment,” said Peter Garrett, the country’s environment minister.

Australia’s role as a supporter of the CT6 stems from a request sent to it by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at a CTI meeting in Bali in Dec. 2007. He asked for Australian technical expertise to aid in protecting the triangle.

Hughes told IPS that Australia is compelled to act. ”Australia has a capacity that, in my opinion, obligates it to be a major player in the Coral Triangle region,” he said.

While he supports the view that the threat faced by the inhabitants of the triangle’s coastal areas requires a multilateral approach, the diversity of marine environments within the Coral Triangle means that a one-size-fits-all solution to management is not viable.

”You need to tailor-make the management style to what will work on the ground in the different regions,” says Hughes.


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