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WWF-Sulu and Sulawesi Seas Nowhere in the world can one find a richer variety of coral reef, plant and animal life than in the Sulu and Sulawesi Seas. Surrounded by Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, the seas contain about 450 species of coral (compared to only 60 in the entire Caribbean). The Sulu Sea's Tubbataha Reef, with corals covering more than 81,000 acres, is the heart of coral diversity for the region. These seas support one of the world's largest varieties of reef fish, as well as commercial and community fisheries. The coral reefs and sea turtle nesting beaches make the area a magnet for tourists. In recent years, overfishing and destructive fishing methods including the use of cyanide and dynamite have destroyed large sections of coral and depleted fish populations. WWF is meeting these challenge head-on, with strategies designed to eliminate illegal and destructive fishing practices, unite Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines in tri- national protection efforts, and establish parks and protected areas throughout the Sulu and Sulawesi Seas. WWF field staff is working with local communities to implement programs that help them manage their resources - such as fisheries - in a way that preserves them for future generations. Illegal activities like turtle egg collection are being reduced dramatically in areas where WWF has implemented education and ecotourism programs. The Sulu and Sulawesi Seas, which provide sustenance and livelihoods for millions of local inhabitants, are also a dream destination for ecotourists, and a must see for divers and photographers. With WWF's help, they will continue to be. Biodiversity Six of the world's eight species of marine turtles -- the green turtle, the hawksbill, the olive ridley, the leatherback, the loggerhead and the flatback turtle -- can be found in the Sulu and Sulawesi Seas. Migrating populations of 50- to 70-foot whale sharks and massive manta rays are attracted to the region by abundant plankton. An amazing abundance of fish species, including the economically important yellowfin, skipjack, and bigeye tuna, also inhabit the region. Other fish species found here include the bumphead parrot-fish, needlefish, Napoleon wrasses and barracuda. Spectacular submarine caves provide a home to several species of fish and crustaceans that are found nowhere else on Earth. Among the 22 species of marine mammals found in the Sulu and Sulawesi Seas are spinner, spotted, bottlenose, Risso's, and Fraser's dolphins. Other marine mammals include the endangered dugong--a cousin of the Florida manatee--the rare Bryde's whale, the short-finned pilot whale, the dwarf sperm whale, and Cuvier's beaked whale. Threats The Sulu-Sulawesi region has one of the highest human population densities in the world, which puts enormous stress on the region's ocean resources. Coastal development, dynamite fishing, sedimentation, coral bleaching, and overfishing are all taking their toll on one of the most diverse and beautiful coral reef ecosystems on the planet. Important marine habitats, for example, are being destroyed by people who dynamite reefs to catch fish for food, collect coral for building materials and other trade, and use cyanide to capture tropical fish for a variety of markets. Mangroves, which provide crucial spawning grounds for many species of fish, are being cleared as the area's human population grows and the demand for aquaculture and fuelwood increases. More than 75 percent of the world's aquaculture industry is centered in the Asia and Pacific region, much of it in the Philippines and Indonesia. In the Philippines, for example, more than half a million acres of mangroves have been converted into ponds, eliminating important wildlife habitat and contaminating aquifers and surrounding farmlands. The historical lack of coordinated efforts among countries in the region to monitor the effects of economic expansion poses an indirect but major threat. There has, for example, been no region-wide consensus to conserve marine biodiversity or to stop habitat destruction and effectively manage the use of fish and other marine life. Many of the region's resources have been exploited to--or beyond--their limits. Conservation Results International Partnership Protects Sulu Sulawesi As the world's premier conservation organization, WWF is known for creating effective partnerships that bring together diverse parties to work towards a common conservation goal. A recent example of this collaborative spirit came at a summer 2003 meeting in the Philippines, when representatives from WWF and three Asia-Pacific nations successfully produced a shared management plan for the Sulu Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion (SSME), a major development with far-reaching implications for future conservation efforts. Delegates from the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines convened in order to oversee the creation of a tri-national body that will work to address environmental threats to the SSME, which covers over 385,000 square miles within the coastlines of the three countries. The endeavor is a significant endorsement of WWF's ecoregional approach to conservation, which recognizes that endangered species and habitats span national boundaries and require a concerted and often international effort in order to successfully address the threats they face. This innovative, holistic approach is fundamental to WWF's work around the world. The Sulu Sulawesi ecoregion is considered a crucial conservation area and the "center of biodiversity in the Western Pacific Region" with an astoundingly rich and diverse collection of species and abundant marine habitat. The threats it faces include overexploitation of resources, widespread water pollution and the use of destructive fishing methods, all of which have extensive consequences for the area's population. "This region is of massive economic importance as it is home to about 35 million people who are directly or indirectly dependent on the coastal and marine areas for their livelihood," said a representative from WWF-Malaysia. While the group members acknowledged the challenge of partnering with "culturally and politically diverse countries" towards a common conservation agenda, working together with each other and partners like WWF is already producing significant results. Featured Projects Because the Sulu and Sulawesi Seas span the coastal and territorial waters of three nations, a major priority for WWF in the region is to foster the development of a coordinated tri-national conservation program, resulting in an integrated network of priority marine protected areas, as well as sea turtle and fisheries conservation activities. With offices in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, WWF is uniquely positioned to work with these nations to explore the most appropriate options for preserving their shared ocean resources. Combating Coral Reef Destruction While the Philippine government formed a Presidential Commission mandated to develop ways to sustainably manage its portion of these waters, threats to the region's marine diversity are growing so rapidly that immediate help is also needed. Responding to the challenge, WWF helped launch a regional enforcement campaign to stop coral reef destruction right now. As part of this campaign, WWF marshaled the support of six Philippine government agencies, winning their commitments to put an end to destructive activities at two key sites in the Philippines -- Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park in Palawan and Anilao in Balayan Bay. Collectively the six agencies--Environment and Natural Resources; Bureau of Fisheries; National Police; Navy; Coast Guard; and Department of Justice--increased patrolling, enforcement, public outreach and user fees at Tubbataha, the Philippines' first marine park, and Anilao, which because of its proximity to Manila is a critical site for demonstrating the importance of marine conservation to nearby decision makers. In Apo Reef, illegal fishing activities of Chinese trawlers have been eliminated. The program is working. Since the enforcement campaign was launched in 1999, destructive fishing practices have been virtually eliminated in the two pilot areas. Tubbataha was named by Asiaweek magazine as the region's best marine park, an important acknowledgment that demonstrates to park managers, politicians, and park users that healthy, well-managed coral reefs bring international recognition, which in turn can attract social and economic resources to a region. Tubbataha is a wonderful example of the benefits of an effective enforcement campaign. It is a crown jewel among marine parks, and its protection demonstrates the value of WWF's strategy of bringing stakeholders together in order to find practical conservation solutions. Working with Communities to Manage Resources Elsewhere in the region, WWF's work is also making a difference. In the Turtle Islands, where in 1996 WWF helped establish the first transboundary protected area for marine turtles--it spans both Malaysian and Philippine waters--WWF is now working with local communities to better manage the harvest of sea turtle eggs. WWF is helping local people improve their health and livelihoods so they can participate more effectively in the protection of their own environment. In Malaysia's Semporna Islands, WWF is promoting careful stewardship of the island's resources and the development of a management plan for the entire area. These islands, the remnants of an ancient volcanic crater, surround one of the most beautiful coral-filled lagoons in the region. There is a wealth of marine life and local communities rely on much of it--including giant clams, sea anemones, and urchin eggs--for sustenance. The variety of ethnic groups, languages, and lifestyles, however, makes integrating community needs and conservation objectives especially challenging in these islands. Further south in Indonesia, WWF is laying the groundwork for field research, monitoring, and education programs to protect nesting turtles on the beaches of the Berau Islands in East Kalimantan. Protecting nesting sites is important because this is the largest green turtle rookery in Southeast Asia and it is severely threatened by commercial harvesting of eggs. After only one season of monitoring the nesting turtles and raising awareness with local government officials, WWF has succeeded in having conservation quotas raised from 20 percent to 30 percent of the turtle nests. And because this is an area of exceptional natural beauty both on land and underwater, WWF is also working to encourage nature tourism that generates local income based on diving and turtle- watching, rather than turtle egg collection. Other victories for turtles in Indonesia have occurred on the islands of Sangalaki and Derawan, where local people previously collected 90 percent of the eggs laid. As of January, 2002, WWF and its partners have put a complete stop to all turtle egg collection on the islands. The local district government head, Dr. Haji Masdjuni, recently shared the prestigious Getty Award for Conservation for his bold initiative to significantly limit turtle egg concessions. Also in Indonesia, at Bunaken National Marine Park, WWF has started an initiative called Friends of the Reef to develop innovative partnerships with the newly formed park, private sector, and local communities to strengthen enforcement patrols against dynamite and cyanide fishers who venture into the park. And similar to efforts in the Philippines' Apo Reef, illegal fishing from Chinese trawlers has been eliminated in this park. === Outstanding biodiversity The SSME forms the apex of the Coral Triangle, an area which contains the maximum recorded coral diversity - 500 of the world's 793 species of reef-building corals- in the world. By comparison, the Great Barrier Reef lies in the area where coral diversity ranges from 300-399 coral species and the Caribbean in the region of less than 100 species (Veron 2000). The SSME boasts of globally outstanding biodiversity of other groups as well. It is part of the area with the highest reef fish diversity where more than 1,200 species have been recorded (Allen 2000). It harbors endangered and vulnerable fauna which are in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, such as proboscis monkey, sea turtles, giant clams, the gigantic whale shark, and seahorses. The biological diversity of the ecoregion is still being explored with continuing discoveries of new species (e.g. sharks) as well as rare ones such as the rarely seen megamouth shark. The deep-dwelling coelacanth, believed to have been extinct millions of years ago, is listed in Appendix 1 of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) following the discovery of a population off the coast of North Sulawesi. Formed through a complex history of tectonic movements and plate collisions, the SSME consists of the Sulu Sea, the Sulawesi Sea, and the Philippine inland seas (Visayan Sea, Bohol Sea, and Mindanao Sea), as well as all the small and large islands within it. It has a wide and islets, beaches and sand cays, fringing and barrier reefs, atolls and pseudo atolls, as well as submerged volcanoes, seamounts and sills, and deep inter-island passages and oceanic channels. Also found in the SSME are at least 16 of the 52 species of sea snakes in the world, saltwater crocodiles, migratory birds, and at least 22 species of dolphins and whales. Interspersed among the different habitats in the SSME are over 350 species of marine macrobenthic algae (Trono 2001). The SSME is characterized by diverse and productive ecosystems, among them mangrove forests, seagrass beds, coral reefs, and soft-bottom and pelagic environments. A unique marine or jellyfish lake in Kakaban, East Kalimantan, Indonesia provides home to a number of endemic species. The ecoregion's seagrass beds and coral reefs support the endangered dugong or sea cow, and five of the world's remaining seven species of sea turtles. In the SSME are two major nesting sites - the Turtle Islands of Malaysia and the Philippines and the Derawan Islands of Indonesia - of two of the world's largest nesting populations of green and hawksbill turtles. The significance of the SSME's biodiversity is recognized in important areas such as the Tubbataha Reef World Heritage Site, the Palawan and Puerto Galera Man and Biosphere Reserves, the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area, the Apo Island Marine Sanctuary, Kudat-Bangi in northern Sabah, the Semporna Islands in Darvel Bay, the Berau Delta in East Kalimantan, and the Bunaken Marine Park. The World Heriatge Area Workshop of the UNESCO held in Hanoi in February 2002 identified the North Borneo - Balabac priority conservation area (PCA) and the Semporna - Tawi-Tawi PCA in the A-list for possible nomination and listing as World Heritage Areas. The planned SSME Network will strengthen the management of these areas by linking them in a broader framework of species, habitat, and fisheries management, and will extend protection to include other areas for the representation of the full range of habitats in the ecoregion. (Evangeline Miclat) --- On the importance of coral reef system: A Biophysical Assessment of the Philippine Territory of the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion, Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion Program, WWF-Philippines May 2003 http://www.ssme-wwf.net/publish/ssme%20biophys%20report.pdf ECONOMIC BENEFITS • Coral trade International trade in ornamental corals, shells, sea turtles and other coral reef organisms flourished in the 1970s. Tons of the corals and reef-associated organisms were extracted yearly for export to other countries mostly in the United States. The volume of coral export reached 1.8M m3 of corals annually (White and Cruz-Trinidad, 1998.) • Reef fisheries Intact reefs serve as habitats for numerous invertebrates and reef associated fishes. Economically, these highly productive areas provide livelihood to millions of Filipino fishers. Fishery products from reef areas include not only food but export products as well as extracts for pharmaceutical purposes. • Live fish trade The live fish industry started to flourish in the late 1970s, specifically the aquarium fish trade. However, due to the poor method of collection, mainly with the use of cyanide, the Philippines was one of several countries banned by importing countries. This started the decline in the once vigorous trade. The live-fish trade mostly for table food started in the late 1960s and continue to flourish. The most common target species is the Plectropomus leopardus and other species of a lesser degree such as grouper, rock lobsters, stonefish and others. In 1996, about 840 tons were exported from the Philippines. • Tourism revenues Reef areas are the favorite tourist destinations for snorkeling, skin diving, scuba diving, and underwater photography. The pristine waters, magnificent beaches, and underwater diversity are the main attractractions for foreign as well as local visitors. Revenues from tourism alone bring in millions of dollars to the country giving locals a source of income. White and Cruz-Trinidad (1998) made a conservative estimate of revenue from tourist arrival in Panglao, Bohol. The revenue from entrance fees alone was estimated at over US$ 26,000. ECOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE Coral reefs rival that other great tropical community, the rain forest, in their majesty, richness, and complexity. But in terms of abunance of readily observable animal life, even the mighty rain forest takes a back seat. They are easily the richest and most complex of all marine ecosystems. Coral reefs are such massive structures that they must be considered not only biological communities but geological structures, the largest geological features built by organisms. Coral reefs, despite being notoriously low in nutrients, harbor a super abundance of life and provide habitats for various plant and animal species. They serve as nurseries and feeding grounds for juveniles and home to demersal as well as some pelagic species. The numerous mirohabitats and the huge number of species is a direct reflection of the opportunities afforded by this environment. A single coral head may contain more than a hundred species of worms and a numerous assortment of other organisms! Symbiotic relationships are also extremely common, thus, favoring the coexistence of a multitude of organisms. The coral’s associate zooxanthellae provide the vital first step in the coral reef food chain. Many reefs also supply larvae and gametes to nearby sink areas where they grow and proliferate. In this manner, diversity is maintained not just within a locality but throughout the entire region. But why is it so important to maintain diversity? Simply put, a more diverse ecosystem is a more stable one, just as there is strength in numbers. Though diversity is more than just a game of numbers, but also of types. As mentioned earlier in this section, reef areas in the Philippines serve as the center of biodiversity in Southeast Asia. Within SSME, particularly in Central Visayas, Panglao in Bohol, Negros Oriental, and selected areas in Mindanao where coral reefs are still in relatively good condition, biodiversity is maintained. Other noteworthy sources of larvae and gametes are the Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park, The Apo Island Reserve, and various marine protected areas in the region. Threats and Issues ANTHROPOGENIC SOURCES The main sources of threats to coral reefs are human-induced. Among the most pressing issues are: • Destructive fishing methods o Use of poisonous substances The use of cyanide in the collection of aquarium fish started in the 1950s and presently continues to a lesser extent. Figure 4.11 idicates the reefs where cyanide fishing is practiced. The drop in this practice is due to the decline in the demand for aquarium fish from the Philippines, mostly caused by the notoriety by which the fish are captured. However, the use of cyanide for catching live fish for table food has increased over the years (Pratt et al., 2000). The coral trout Plectropomus leopardus is the most commonly targetted species in the live reef fish food trade (Pratt et al., 2000). Fisheries specialists foresee overexploitation of this species should the current practice continue. o Blast fishing Beause the number of blast fishers have been reported to decrease in recent years, coral communities are slowly recovering. But due to the intense damage wrought in most reefs (Figure 4.12), recovery will take some time. One simulation study indicated that 30% reduction in the current level of destructive fishing activities would allow slow recovery of corals and gradually enhance biodiversity (Alcala, 2000). o Other destructive fishing methods Trawling, “muro-ami” and the use of non-selective fishing gears are among the most common problems that amplify coral reef destruction. Since a large volume of fish are caught at one time, depletion of fish stocks are feared to ensue. Besides overfishing of food fish, “by-catch” has scaled up at an alarming rate. These fish, which are either juveniles or non-consumable species, only end up as waste. • Habitat destruction Habitat destruction results from various causes such as high sediment load, destructive fishing methods, and pollution generated by households (domestic wastes) and industrial operations. Land conversion and deforestation from upland areas are pointed out to be the ultimate source of marine habitat destruction. Pollution incidents such as major oil spills also contribute to the destruction of coral reefs. Chronic spills along ports and harbors and from motorized banca also pose a risk to the survival of coral communities. NATURAL SOURCES Besides the glaring effect of human-induced threats to coral reefs, natural phenomena also factor out. Among the most notable cases are: • Coral bleaching episodes Six bleaching reports were documented from 1980 to 1997 in Bolinao, Pangasinan, Northern Luzon. Arceo et al. (1999) documented the bleaching and mortality of corals due to elevated sea surface temperatures (SSTs). In 1999, Arceo et al. using coral bleaching report forms, video transect surveys and NOAA’s satellite data, documented for the first time in the Philippines a mass bleaching event. Elevated SSTs that surpassed the upper thermal limits of corals were suspected as the major cause of bleaching. Analyses of before and after bleaching episodes showed that live coral cover significantly decreased (0.7% to 46%) while dead coral cover significantly increased (3% to 49%). • “Crown-of-thorns” outbreak Crown-of-thorns outbreaks have been reported in different parts of the country over the last 20 years. In 1998, the Cebu-Bohol area was badly affected, while in 2000 eastern Palawan was severely devastated by the onslaught. This sea star can destroy a significant amount of living hard corals by covering the coral colony with its stomach and digesting away the live coral tissue. Much is yet to be studied about the factors that trigger these outbreaks. +++ Conservation Plan for the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion. 2003. World Wide Fund for Nature – Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion., November 2003 (LBI Building 57 Kalayaan Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City 1101 Philippines) http://www.ssme-wwf.net/publish/ECP.pdf The SSME is the established center of the coral triangle, encircled by islands of various sizes spreading out in the three countries. This area has the highest marine biodiversity on earth. The islands in the SSME are endowed with dense rain forest cover and inhabited by people who rever the sea as supernatural because this sea appears to embrace the ecoregion as protective arms. However, population increase has resulted to overexploitation of the ecoregion’s resources to a level where conditions have already made negative impacts on the ecoregion’s abundant biodiversity. The result is a gradual breakdown of the ecoregion’s natural mechanism that produces the abundant diversity of life in the ecoregion. This abundance has now severely declined amidst relentless exploitation. However, the remaining diversity still indicates that the ecoregion is an asset that must be saved. The ecoregion’s ~1,000,000 square kilometer area has extensive mangrove estuarine assemblages, marine plant communities, and coral reefs serving as home to a wide variety of life forms (Attachment 1). The wealth of biodiversity of the ecoregion could be gleaned from the 400 known species of marine algae, 476 species of corals, 16 known species of seagrasses, 5 of the 7 species of sea turtles in the world, 22 species of marine mammals and swarms of high-value fishes used for food and commerce. Supporting each other in a dynamic and complex relationship, these life forms play an important role in maintaining the biodiversity that supports the existence of the inhabitants in the ecoregion. Some 45 million people live within the ecoregion, who derive most of their protein and income from the resources around them. The products drawn from the ecoregion’s waters bring increasing amount of foreign currency that contributes to the three countries’ capital formation. The very nature of the ecoregion itself also inspires cultural expressions and has accumulated knowledge that all contribute in defining the identity of some 50 ethno-linguistic groups along the ecoregion’s shores. The continued exchange of products among the three countries has resulted in the transfer and exchange of information and techniques, wherein a common trait or mark indicative of the indigenous culture of the three countries evolves. In spite of the waters that divide the people of these three countries, the ecoregion remains as a uniting factor. The stakeholders of the three countries are drawn towards a single aspiration of securing their future by conserving the ecoregion’s biodiversity. The Ecoregion as the Conservation Unit An ecoregion is a relatively large unit of land or water containing a geographically distinct assemblage of natural communities that share a large majority of their species, dynamics and environmental conditions. The ecoregion approach in conservation can be more beneficial than conserving smaller units. This is because the key ecological processes supporting the component ecosystems are largely intact within a single ecological boundary. For SSME, the ocean current that bears upon the periodic migration of some species and the life cycle of other life forms is a key ecological process. Compared to smaller units, conserving an ecoregion facilitates the achievement of the fundamental goals of conservation. These goals are as follows: • Representation of a full range of distinct natural communities and ecological and evolutionary phenomena; • Maintenance of viable population of species; • Sustainability of key ecological processes and services that maintain biodiversity; and • Resilience in protecting blocks of natural habitat large enough to be receptive to short and longterm change The ecoregion offers more opportunities to achieve such goals mainly because: (1) widespread threats to biodiversity can be comprehensively managed, with joint action at the ecoregional level and complementary action at the national level; (2) actions can be planned and implemented in a more systematic and coherent manner since such actions respond more to the requirements of ecological rather than political boundaries; (3) expansion of resources available for conservation can be drawn from a wide range of stakeholders at various levels; and (4) resources for conservation can be allocated to match the type and degree of need, thus attaining higher degree of efficiency and effectiveness. There are 200 ecoregions around the world identified for conservation (Olson and Dinerstein, 1998). The SSME is one of the priority ecoregions, where conservation efforts must be concentrated. Efforts to address biodiversity loss have been initiated.
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