Article By Jonathan Wootliff
Situated in the heart of the ecologically priceless Coral Triangle and surrounded by imposing mountains, the Indonesian city of Manado has long played an important role in the history of Indonesia. The Dutch East India Company built a fortress in the capital city of North Sulawesi in the middle of the 17th century, highlighting the strategic importance of Manado in the maritime world.
The Javanese prince Diponegoro was exiled there by the Dutch colonial rulers in 1830. Manado’s natural beauty inspired famous naturalist Alfred Wallace when he visited the place in 1859. Heavily bombed by the Allied Forces during the Second World War, the city was again attacked, this time by the Indonesian forces in 1958, after the rebellious Permesta movement – headquartered there � demanded reforms considered unacceptable to the central government.
Almost poetically, Manado once again made the history books in 2007 when a local fisherman caught an extremely rare coelacanth – a lobe-finned fish – weighing over 41 kilos, just two years before the city was to host the World Ocean Conference, where six Southeast Asian nations last week formally agreed a strategy to address the problems plaguing the seriously endangered Coral Triangle.
Arguably one of the most critical summits on marine conservation in many years, leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and the Philippines, adopted a 10-year plan of action to avert the growing threats to the region’s coral reefs, fish, mangroves, vulnerable species and other vital marine and coastal living resources.
Although not legally binding, conservationists are cautiously optimistic this so-called Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI) represents a key step in protecting what some say is the most important marine ecosystem on the planet. Dubbed “the Nursery of the Seas”, the Coral Triangle includes all six of the countries who have committed to collaborate in order to execute this environmental plan.
Almost triangular in shape, hence its name, this six million square-kilometer of ocean is where the forces of nature have crafted an amazing underwater tapestry of corals that are home to 75 percent of the world’s coral species, 40 percent of the world’s coral reef fish species and to six of the world’s seven species of marine turtles. The extraordinary ocean sunfish, with an average adult weight of 1,000 kilograms, is the heaviest known bony fish in the world, lives almost exclusively in these environmentally crucial waters.
The Coral Triangle is also part of a wider region that contains an impressive 51 of the world’s 70 mangrove species and some 23 of the 50 seagrass species. Vital to livelihood of 120 million people, the Coral Triangle is more than just a source of food. It represents a way of life fostered across generations by a close dependence on the marine environment. The Triangle supports the largest tuna fishing industry in the world, which generates billions of dollar in global income each year. Its vibrant reef systems also buffer coastal communities from cyclones and tsunamis.
A report issued by Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) at the World Ocean Conference in Manado warns that if we do not act on climate change, coral reefs will disappear from the Coral Triangle by the end of the century, and the ability of the region’s coastal environment to feed people will decline by 80 percent.
The CTI declaration provides a strong example of cooperation for the world, ahead of the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December, where nations will gather to agree on a new greenhouse gas limitation treaty replacing the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Like at the 2007 climate summit in Bali, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has again made a passionate plea for environmental protection, urging his fellow leaders at the Manado meeting to support this ambitious plan to protect the region’s marine resources.
He talked of the 1992 Rio de Earth Janeiro Summit where leaders failed to sign a treaty for the preservation of oceans. “That is why we are gathering here now: To prevent the destruction of the riches and safeguard them for the next generation,” he said. He announced Indonesia’s plan to designate 20 million hectares of marine protected areas across the archipelago by 2010.
Over the next three years, the Indonesian government will seek top double the current amount of funding from its national budget dedicated to specific programs and activities stipulated in the CTI Plan. Given Indonesia is the largest archipelagic country with the highest marine biodiversity in the world, the positive outcome from last week’s World Ocean Conference in Manado has further strengthened the country’s newfound image as an environmental leader.
Last week’s summit was a reputational triumph for this nation. But now, it is important the noble promises made by Indonesia and its neighbors in Manado are comprehensively fulfilled for the sake of our oceans and for all of us.
Jonathan Wootliff is an independent sustainable development consultant specializing in the building of productive relationships between companies and NGOs. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The Jakarta Post – May 19, 2009