Sulu Sulawesi Seas of Southeast Asia

Global Centre of Marine Biodiversity

Nowhere in the world can one find a richer variety of coral reef plant and animal life than in the Sulu-Sulawesi Ecoregion. It is known as a global centre of marine biodiversity, and is surrounded largely by Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Covering an area of around 900,000km2, the ecoregion is physically subdivided into the Sulu Sea, the Sulawesi Sea and the inland seas of the Philippines.

Biodiversity and Resources
The Sulu-Sulawesi Ecoregion is of enormous ecological and economical importance, featuring productive ecosystems such as coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove forests. Its marine biodiversity includes more than 400 species of corals, 650 species of reef fishes, including unusual fishes such as the coelacanth, 5 of the world's 7 species of marine turtles, endangered marine mammals such as the dugong, whales and many dolphins, and more than 400 species of algae and 16 species of seagrass.

The ecoregion also serves as an important source of food and livelihood for countless subsistence and commercial fishermen. The seas are a crucial spawning ground for commercially important fish species like the yellow fin, skip jack, and big eye tuna, as well as shrimp. It is a popular tourist destination,a living laboratory for research and educational purposes, and an important navigation route. Many cultural activities are also linked to various parts of the ecoregion.

Conservation Challenges
Many reefs in the ecoregion are under serious stress from social and natural forces including dynamite fishing, over-fishing, coastal development, sedimentation, and coral bleaching. Human population density is amongst the highest in the world, leading to a severe impact on marine ecosystems from over-exploitation, pollution, and coastal development. There is also a lack of institutional capacity and political will to enforce environmental protection laws.

Vision for the Ecoregion
A common vision has been developed by the 3 concerned nations which served as the basis for an ecoregion conservation plan. Conservation planning involved the participation of governments, WWF and other major stakeholders in each of the 3 countries. (further information... pdf download)

Conservation Challenges
Ongoing initiatives include the Marine Fisheries Programme, intended to review fishing policies and management and to develop an improved framework, and ecoregion conservation planning, which aims to formulate a biodiversity vision and conservation plan for the Sulu-Sulawesi Ecoregion.

In its own vision for the ecoregion, WWF identified key conservation and development goals, and identified the objectives and corresponding activities that will lead to the realization of the vision. This groundwork formed the framework of the Sulu-Sulawesi Ecoregion Conservation Programme. Activities now underway include marine species conservation, conservation assessments of priority areas, institutional capacity building, integrated conservation and development projects, information dissemination and environmental education, community-based certification in fisheries, and boundary delineation and planning using geographical information systems technology. These projects either provide input to the planning process or enable WWF to contribute towards resource management and pave the way for the implementation, at the national and local levels, of the ecoregion conservation plan that will be developed.

A management framework will also be developed for MPAs in the ecoregion, including the selection of priority sites within such a network of MPAs.

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