The Coral Triangle covers the seas of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste. It gets its name from the scientific delineation around these waters that contain more than 500 species of reef-building coral.
With the Pacific Ocean to the East, the Indian Ocean to the South and the South China Sea to the West, this world’s center of marine life’s natural exchange of waters brings nutrients to shallow coastal areas and support this region’s natural wealth — its fisheries.
Hosting one of the highest human population densities in the world, this region directly sustains the food and livelihoods of more than 100 million people in the area, and benefiting millions more worldwide. Many of the coastal communities have little alternative to make a living other than fish for their food and income.
One of the most lucrative of the region’s reef-based fisheries is the live reef fish trade, with an annual estimated value of more than US$1 billion. Reef fish are a highly valuable natural resource of the region, enjoyed by millions of people in restaurants around the globe.
The Coral Triangle is also home to highly sought-after tuna species. In the Pacific alone, this industry is worth $3 billion annually. In 2006, landings from the Pacific represented as much as 51 percent of the global tuna output. Of this, the Coral Triangle countries produced 40 percent. Using current prices, this catch is valued at $1.5 billion. With considerable lack of data from some countries and exclusion of small tuna species in the statistics above, the actual tuna production from the Coral Triangle countries could even be much higher.
The Coral Triangle’s spectacular coral reefs, turtle nesting beaches and wonderful romantic white sandy beaches make the area a much sought-after destination for tourists, divers and photographers. It is a huge tourism asset worth over $12 billion annually.
Unfortunately, unsustainable extraction and use are threatening this marine haven. If left unchecked, the reefs will no longer be able to sustain fish and coastal communities, attract tourists or protect coastlines and coastal infrastructure.
To safeguard these valuable resources, new approaches to marry sustainability with economic development are required. We need to start seeing real changes in moving to renewable energy systems and clean technologies, phasing out toxic chemicals, reducing waste and ensuring the sustainable use of important commodities such as fish.
But such efforts can only bear fruit if we attain a strong level of commitment from the private sector.
Seafood businesses and fishing operators, tourism companies, airlines, oil and gas companies all exploit the Coral Triangle’s abundant marine resources for their businesses. With rapidly expanding populations, economic growth and the pressures of international trade, these businesses are competing more and more for fewer resources.
Cooperation for the sake of sustainable growth therefore makes more business sense now than ever before. There are growing legislative, social and market pressures on the corporate world to take greater responsibility for environmental performances in all stages of the supply chain.
By taking early action to source only responsibly-managed resources, and by effectively marketing these endeavors, companies can achieve a business advantage in increasingly sophisticated and environmentally-aware global and domestic markets.
However, this move to green and sustainable development is not just interesting in the short-term. Large businesses have recognized that growth at the expense of the environment is a thing of the past. Back in 2006, one of the world’s largest seafood retailers, Walmart, pledged that within three to five years it will source all fresh and frozen wild caught seafood from Marine Stewardship Council or MSC-certified fisheries.
At that time, Walmart had 1.6 million employees, over 6,000 stores and roughly 60,000 suppliers worldwide, which gave it significant influence over its suppliers globally. It was certainly one of the more significant commitments at that time, considering it accessed as much as 57 percent of its seafood from Asia. Since this commitment, more companies have been pledging their support for sustainable seafood. But as with anything ambitious, change on the water has been rather challenging and slow.
Former Philippine president Arroyo has also captured this business case very clearly on the first Coral Triangle Business Forum in Manila in 2010. And now as we gear up for the third Coral Triangle Business Forum on March 25 in Bali, we expect to see more discussions around how businesses stand to gain more by moving toward responsible practices.
Several seafood companies have already been engaged in improving the sustainability of fisheries by investing in different fishing gears that are not destructive to marine ecosystems, and by investing in ways fishers can attain better product quality, hence reducing waste. Today for example, in Indonesia, about 7 percent of its seafood production is part of fisheries improvement projects. In the Philippines, some real progress is being made to improve the tuna fisheries sector in key tuna fishing areas.
We now see examples underway also in the tourism sector, where certification programs have become valuable business assets. Such programs reward operators that exhibit best practices and help differentiate them from those that are less environmentally-sound, providing consumers with better choices. There are some initial programs in Fiji, and soon in Bali, which aim to reduce the use of energy in large hotels through innovation in simple technology.
There are other examples in this region. However, without measures to implement best practices in environmental management, businesses risk losing market share, access to capital, and the goodwill needed to operate profitably. This is where the government plays an important role.
Solutions to move toward responsible economic development already exist. What we need now are strong leadership, initiative and vision to utilize existing partnerships and support the scaling up of good examples to secure the future of the next generation.
The third Coral Triangle Business Forum in March in Bali, Indonesia will hopefully provide the perfect platform for this. www.ctirbf2013.com
The writer is WWF Coral Triangle program leader.