I have just gotten back from a morning snorkel. The weather is warm and sunny, the water blue and I have been looking forward to being here in the heart of the coral triangle hoping to expand my fish identification skills. The only problem I didn’t anticipate, there are no fish. I’ve done a few dives and snorkels since my arrival last week and I am constantly alarmed by the fact that there are no fish. This is a slight exaggeration, there are fish but very, very few. The ones I do see, are small frys (baby fish) which don’t really have enough meat to be worth eating. It would be a gross under statement to say that it’s alarming. It’s terrifying.
The WWF describes the Coral Triangle like this.
The Coral Triangle, the global centre of marine biodiversity, is a 6 million km2 area spanning Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands. Within this nursery of the seas live 76% of the world’s coral species, 6 of the world’s 7 marine turtle species, and at least 2,228 reef fish species.
2,228 species of reef fish! Then where are they? Why am I unable to see anything other than puffer fish (toxic to predators, including humans), the odd butterfly fish and I’ve seen exactly 3 file fish. And believe you me, I’m looking. The Coral Triangle is supposed to have more coral reef fish diversity than anywhere else in the world. 8% (235 species) of the coral reef fishes in the Coral Triangle are endemic (found nowhere else in the world).
Fish are an important source of food and livelihood for coastal communities. The reefs in the Coral Triangle support about 120 million people and of those some 2.25 million are fishermen. Overfishing is the first problem that comes to mind, overfishing is when we catch more fish than the system can support. There are craters from dynamite fishing visible on dives, as well as old fishing nets strung along the reefs. So why should you care? You don’t eat reef fish from the Coral Triangle. But you like breathing right? Do you use antibiotics or know someone who is suffering with Cancer?
New coral colonies need smooth, hard surfaces to settle on. If there are no fish to eat the algae, then there will be no suitable surfaces for coral to establish themselves. Algae, which grows faster than coral, will then compete with coral for sunlight to photosynthesize. No sunlight equals death to coral. Coral uses carbon dioxide from the ocean, along with Calcium ions to build their skeleton. This is important because it allows corals to become a carbon sink for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
A Caribbean sponge that grows in coral reefs, is the backbone of Ara-C which is used in chemotherapy treatment for lymphoma and leukemia. Coral are stationary animals so a lot of them have evolved defensive chemicals that are showing promising results as treatments for heart disease, dementia and arthritis.
Corals are helping us in a lot of ways, isn’t it time we help them? So what can you do? Educate yourself. Don’t support fish feeding when snorkeling or diving.
Eat responsibly. You vote with your dollar, chose restaurants that serve sustainable choices.
Chose reef safe sunscreen.
Volunteer when you are on holidays, do reef and beach clean ups.
Start a new holiday tradition of donating to NGO’s.
I remember walking along a beach in Thailand, and thinking I wish somebody would do something about the garbage littering the beach….until I realized, I am someone. And you are too.