Reefs at Risk in Southeast Asia

Mark Spalding

Provides a detailed analysis of threats to coral reefs across Southeast Asia.

Key findings of the report include:

Biological endowment. Southeast Asia contains nearly 100,000 square kilometers of coral reefs, almost 34 percent of the world total. With over 600 of the almost 800 reef-building coral species, these reefs have the highest levels of marine biodiversity on earth. Southeast Asia is also the global center of biodiversity for coral reef fish, mollusks, and crustaceans. The region also contains 51 of the world’s 70 mangrove species and 23 of the 50 seagrass species.

The economic value associated with coral reefs in Southeast Asia is substantial. The value of the region’s sustainable coral reef fisheries alone is US$2.4 billion per year. In addition, coral reefs are vital to food security, employment, tourism, pharmaceutical research, and shoreline protection. The coral reefs of Indonesia and the Philippines provide annual economic benefits estimated at US$1.6 billion and US$1.1 billion per year, respectively.

Threats to reefs. The heavy reliance on marine resources across Southeast Asia has resulted in the overexploitation and degradation of many coral reefs, particularly those near major population centers. The main threats include overfishing, destructive fishing practices, and sedimentation and pollution from land-based sources. Human activities now threaten an estimated 88 percent of Southeast Asia’s coral reefs, jeopardizing their biological and economic value to society. For 50 percent of these reefs, the level of threat is “high” or “very high.” Only 12 percent of reefs are at low risk.

Effective management is key to maintaining coastal resources, but, is inadequate across much of the region. Some 646 marine protected areas (MPAs) cover an estimated 8 percent of the coral reefs. Of the 332 MPAs whose management effectiveness could be determined, only 14 percent were rated as effectively managed, 48 percent have partially effective management, and 38 percent have inadequate management.

Lack of information. Despite widespread recognition that coral reefs are severely threatened, information about the status and nature of the threats to specific reef areas is limited. This lack of information inhibits effective decisionmaking concerning coastal resources. The Reefs at Risk project was developed to address this deficiency by creating standardized indicators that raise awareness about threats to coral reefs and to highlight the linkages between human activity and coral reef condition.