Southeast Asian Coral Reefs - Depletion


For 50 percent of Southeast Asia’s coral reefs, they are at high or very high levels of threat. Only 12 percent of the reefs are at low risk. 64 percent of the regions reefs are threatened by overfishing and 56 percent are threatened by destructive fishing techniques. Indonesia and the Philippines together possess about 77 percent of the region’s coral reefs and nearly all of those reefs are threatened. Over 90 percent of the coral reefs in Cambodia, Singapore, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, China, and the Spratly Islands are threatened and over 85 percent of reefs of Malaysia and Indonesia are threatened. Heavy reliance on marine resources resulted in overexploitation and degradation of many coral reefs, especially those near major population centers. Major threats include overfishing, destructive fishing practices, sedimentation and pollution from land based sources. Human activities threaten an estimated 88 percent of Southeast Asia’s coral reefs, jeopardizing the biological and economic value to society. Coral reefs just off the coasts of Indonesia and the Philippines possess the world’s most diverse coral species and organisms. These coral reefs are susceptible to severe damage by environmental impacts and mankind. The majority of the destruction of coral reefs in Southeast Asia is due to illegal fishing practices and explosives. These explosives kill fish and shatter the coral skeletons resulting in depletion. Scientists agree that pollution, overfishing, cyanide fishing, and bleaching have negatively impacted about 85% of Indonesia’s reefs. In recent years, the direct and indirect effects of overfishing and pollution from agriculture and land development have been the major drivers of massive and accelerating decreases in abundance of coral reef species, causing widespread changes in reef ecosystems. Philippines is covered with 35,000 km² coral reefs. But 70% of them are degraded. The conditions of coral reefs are deteriorating on a dramatic rate. Global climate change has caused serious troubles on coral reefs. Changes in ocean chemistry due to increasing carbon dioxide level cause weakening of coral skeletons and reduce the accretion of reefs, especially at higher latitudes. Hurricanes, rising sea levels and Greenhouse are also great threats. However, the most pressing impact of climate change is coral bleaching and disease that have already increased over the past 30 years. Other than climate change, trawling, dynamite fishing, and diving tourism also have large influence on the health of coral reefs.

Blast fishing, also called dynamite fishing, is a major contributor to the destruction of coral reefs. Even though blast fishing was banned in 1985, it still remains a huge threat to the Indonesia coral reefs. By filling up an empty bottle with fertiliser and kerosene a fisherman can create an improvised but powerful explosive and throw it into the ocean gaining immediate access to hundreds of dead fish. This method of fishing leaves coral reefs virtually unsalvagable, yet has become increasingly popular as the demand for fish increases but the supply steadily decreases. The explosives used to catch dead fish destroys coral reefs from the inside leaving them no room for regrowth. This effect in turn hurts Filipino fisherman because it leaves no place for fish to reproduce and thus decreases the fish population. Blast fishing became popular among Filipino fisherman in the mid-1980s, but did not gain global attention until the 1990s. Laws created to prevent blast fishing are poorly enforced by officials of this area, and fisherman are highly motivated to continue this practice for survival and profit. "These are not poor Third World guys trying to put food on the table, go to the villages and find the people who head the dynamite fishing cooperatives are the people with new Jeeps and new satellite dishes in their houses. This is about greed,". Indonesia and the Philippines contain about 77% of the regions coral reef systems, and with 98% of the Philippine coral reefs seriously threatened by human activities, it is obvious that there needs to be serious changes to the marine practices of the communities.

Cyanide fishing originated in the Philippines in the 1960s due to the growing market for aquarium fish in North America and Europe. This method of fishing is done by squirting cyanide, a poison, directly into crevices of the coral reefs. The cyanide quickly stuns the fish, making the fishermen's job much easier when catching their targeted prey. This poison is extremely harmful to the surrounding corals and all of the reef's inhabitants. Since the 1960s when this practice began, over one million kilograms of cyanide poison has been released and used to catch fish amongst the Philippine coral reefs. However, less than one half of the live fish caught by this method survive to be sold to restaurants and aquariums.

Another major problem facing the Southeast Asian Coral Reefs is sedimentation. Sedimentation is caused by development on land and agricultural runoff. Southeast Asian countries are experiencing rapid development, leading to deforestation, and construction projects near the reefs that lead to sediment eroding and covering the corals. This reduces sunlight, and smothers the coral colonies; clogging their mouths, which killing them. The nutrient rich sediment also facilitates algae growth, which can overgrow the corals. Sedimentation will continue to be a major problem as Southeast Asian economies continue to grow.

The Philippine waters are considered as having nearly 70% of its coral reefs destroyed with only 5% in good condition. Although this dynamite and cyanide fishing may be targeted at one specific location, it destroys the surrounding habitat as well, spreading over one kilometer upon each impact. It takes over one hundred years for these reefs to grow into substantial sizes, at a rate of one inch every five years. These poor fishing practices not only threaten the food habitats for many species, but also the biodiversity that makes these Philippine and Indonesian coasts so beautiful. Inland human activities is what mainly pressures these reefs' pristine states; from indirect activities such as the increasing demand within the fishing industry as well as directly, through coastal run-off and pollution.

The coral reefs of Indonesia and the Philippines are vital to food security, employment, tourism, and medicinal research. The value of the regions sustainable coral reef fisheries alone is US$2.4 billion a year. These countries rely on the marine resources as a means to diversify their economy. Due to unsafe fishing practices, the coral reefs in these countries are experiencing a decline. There are no pristine coral reefs left in the world. Coral reefs in these countries are headed toward becoming ecologically extinct. Without the abundance of Marine resources, the Philippines and Indonesia will experience a major hit to their economy.

On September 24, 2007, Reef Check (the world’s largest reef conservation organization) stated that only 5% of Philippines' 27,000 square-kilometers of coral reef are in “excellent condition” : Tubbataha Reef, Marine Park in Palawan, Apo Island in Negros Oriental, Apo Reef in Puerto Galera, Mindoro, and Verde Island Passage off Batangas. Philippine coral reefs is 2nd largest in Asia.

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