Problems in the Coral Triangle | WWF

Problems in the Coral Triangle

A fragile web of life is unravelling

The spectacular landscapes and natural riches of the Coral Triangle hide darker stories:
  • over-exploited coral reefs
  • climate change and coral bleaching
  • depleted fish stocks, endangered species on the brink of extinction
This isn’t just a problem for marine biodiversity—human populations are also at risk.

An estimated 120 million people live within the Coral Triangle, of which approximately 2.25 million are fishers who depend on healthy seas to make a living.

...more than 85% of reefs in the Coral Triangle are directly threatened by local human activities, substantially more than the global average of 60%.

Reefs at Risk Revisited in the Coral Triangle

Coral reefs fading, crumbling

These livelihoods are at risk. With a growing population and persistent poverty across Southeast Asia, corals reefs are being over-exploited through increased fishing pressure, and highly damaging techniques such as blast and poison fishing.

Less direct impacts on corals can be just as dangerous. As deforestation continues across the region, sediment run-off flows to coastal areas where it smothers reefs.

Throw into the mix the construction of roads, airports, channels, ports, and buildings, including tourist resorts, and you have a recipe for potential ecological disaster.
Reefs at risk in the Coral Triangle. Sourced from: M. Tupper, A. Tewfik, M.K. Tan, S.L. Tan, L.H. Teh, M.J. Radius, S. Abdullah. ReefBase: A Global Information System on Coral Reefs [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: October 4, 2008]

Climate change, dawn of a new threat

But the worst may be yet to come. Through climate change, higher sea-surface temperatures have caused more severe and more frequent coral bleaching.

The 1997-98 El Niño weather event triggered the largest worldwide coral bleaching event ever recorded. In Southeast Asia, an estimated 18% of the region's coral reefs were damaged or destroyed.3

Reef fish declining, endangered species over-exploited

Across the Indo-Pacific, 79% of spawning aggregations (reproductive gatherings) of reef fish have stopped forming or are in decline.4 And tuna, shark fin, turtle products and reef fish are being taken out of the water at unsustainable rates.

More tuna landed, less in the sea

Morgan GR, Staples DJ. 2006. The history of industrial marine fisheries in Southeast Asia. Food and ... rel=
Landings of tuna (all species) by all methods by country in Southeast Asia, 1950–2002
© FAO 2006

Getting to the root of the problem

Fast economic growth, poor marine management, lack of political will, poverty, high market demand and disregard for rare and threatened species… these are the forces that are squeezing out the magic and richness of the Coral Triangle.

All this limits our chances of realising the full sustainable development potential of the region’s coastal resources. And with every passing year, the window of opportunity to save the Coral Triangle is quickly narrowing.

So what is WWF doing about these problems?
1 Burke L et al. 2002. Reefs at Risk in Southeast Asia. World Resources  Institute, 72 pp.
2 bis
3 bis
4 Sadovy de Mitcheson Y et al. 2008. A Global Baseline for Spawning Aggregations of Reef Fishes. Conservation Biology. Vol 22 (5), pp 1233-1244.


    • 85%+ of reefs in Malaysia and Indonesia threatened
    • 79% of reef fish reproductive gatherings have stopped forming or are declining
    • 2.25 million fishers in Coral Triangle depend on marine resources to survive

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