Indonesia: Coral destruction shifts to eastern Indonesia

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 12 Feb 16;

Coral reefs and the marine ecosystem in the eastern part of the country are under threat, with more and more fishermen in the region resorting to the use of fish bombs, a survey conducted by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) has revealed.

The survey, conducted in 2015, said that 73.91 percent of coral reefs in eastern Indonesia were damaged, compared to 66.13 percent in western Indonesia.

“In the western part of Indonesia, there has been a decline in the level of damage to coral reefs, But in eastern part, we tend to see deterioration,” LIPI coral reef researcher Suharsono said in a press briefing for the release of a report on the survey.

The survey found that from the 73.91 percent, 40.29 percent of them were in very bad condition, while 33.62 percent were in fair condition. Only 4.64 percent of the coral reefs were in excellent condition.

According to LIPI data, the condition of coral reefs in eastern Indonesia had started to deteriorate in the past decade.

The eastward shift in the use of the illegal fishing technique has also reversed the condition of coral reefs in the country in the past decade.

In 2000, only 58.72 percent of coral reefs in the eastern part of Indonesia were damaged. The figure for the western part of the country was 75.24 percent.

“In the past, fish bombing was rampant in western Indonesia. It’s illegal, but it wasn’t banned effectively. Therefore, the coral reefs there were badly damaged. But through government programs to raise awareness among fishermen, the situation has improved,” Suharsono said, adding that major islands in the western part of Indonesia had healthier coral reefs.

The destruction of coral reefs in the eastern part of Indonesia picked up speed on account of a lack of monitoring and global warming.

Due to climate change, waters in tropical coral reef are now warmer, a condition that could lead to bleaching of the reef.

“Let’s say the percentage of coral reef life there is below 30 percent. If El Nino hits, then the condition of the coral reefs will drop rapidly. If the percentage is above 60 percent, then the coral reefs will be able to recover quickly [from El Nino],” Suharsono said.

Scientists have raised the alarm over the accelerated rate of climate change for putting more pressure on coral reefs, one of the most biologically rich and productive ecosystems, which has served as a grocery and pharmacy for people for centuries.

In the past century, global temperatures had warmed by 0.7 degrees Celsius and those of the surface tropical oceans by 0.5 degrees Celsius.

The rise of baseline temperatures has resulted in widespread coral bleaching, where corals lose their colorful symbiotic algae and expose their white skeletons, leaving them vulnerable to death and outbreaks of coral diseases.

In 1983, bleaching killed 90 percent of coral reefs in the South China Sea, Sunda Strait, Java Sea, Bali and Lombok, while a similar event in 1997-1998 affected 80 percent of coral reefs in West Sumatra, South China Sea, Java, Bali and Lombok. The latest bleaching event occurred in 2010, affecting 30 percent of coral reefs in North and West Sumatra, Bali, Lombok and Wakatobi.

LIPI chairman Iskandar Zulkarnain said that sea waste may have also contributed to the deterioration of coral reefs in Indonesia.

“In the past, people were talking about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which was when the Pacific Ocean starting to look like a garbage dump. Now, the problem has shifted to the Indian Ocean. When our ocean starts to turn into a garbage dump, it will reduce the quality of our ecosystem slowly but surely,” he said on Thursday.