How much do we value the Coral Triangle? | WWF
How much do we value the Coral Triangle?

Posted on 10 April 2016

It will take a concerted commitment from stakeholderstourists as well as governmentsto promote the right kind of tourism. Otherwise, Jackie says, we will witness the decline of the regions extraordinary marine biodiversity.
By Jackie Thomas, WWF Coral Triangle Programme Leader

Those of us who live and work in the Coral Triangle know its a beautiful place, but we are also generally aware of the challenge of living sustainably without negatively impacting the very essence of what makes the Coral Triangle so special: its extraordinary marine biodiversity.

Millions of people in the region are eking out a living by relying on healthy marine ecosystems, but many factors make this hard. There are not as many fish to catch, and coral reefs have been affected by overfishing or destructive fishing to feed families and meet the increasing global demand for seafood. Other activities on land also affect the health of the marine environment, compounded by the impacts of climate change.

After spending the past three weeks in Europe, two things jump out at me, the key links between that part of the world and the Coral Triangle: fish and tourism. People from Europe eat fish caught in Coral Triangle waters, and have a fascination for visiting beautiful islands and seeing iconic animals such as marine turtles, whales, and sharks. Many want to experience remote and pristine places, where they can see animals in the wild and experience local culture.

This connection between supply and demand provides a great opportunity to drive more responsible practices in fisheries and tourism. We're already seeing that the demand from European consumers for more responsibly caught fish is greater than the supply, and WWF and other groups are trying to encourage fisheries towards improvement and eco-labelling, through Marine Stewardship and Aquaculture Stewardship Council certifications. But how can demand motivate more responsible tourism?

Certifications are not equal to sustainability

There are a number of tourism certifications, notably the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) and the Green Globe Certification, which set standards for the industry. Having such certifications doesn't guarantee the tourism sector will automatically become sustainable or responsible, though. Tourists themselves can be the drivers of change. Governments, industries, and communities will become more motivated if there is a demand for experiences that are high quality but with a low impact on the environment, that engage communities and resource owners in a meaningful way, and which support livelihoods and uphold local culture.  

Over the past year in the Coral Triangle, there has been an increasing buzz around tourism, and more talk and action on making tourism more sustainable. A big contributor to this was the Coral Triangle's 4th Regional Business Forum, held in August last year, which was dedicated to responsible marine tourism. That helped raise the profile and encourage dialogue on tourism as a mechanism for meeting the goals of the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF), specifically to protect marine areas of high conservation value.

This led to the agreement of the CTI-CFF Senior Officials Meeting in Manado, North Sulawesi in December last year, to agree to establish a tourism taskforce on sustainable marine tourism. They also agreed to use the GSTC criteria, adapted to a local context.

The Australian Government, a partner in the CTI-CFF, also boosted the responsible tourism agenda by initiating the project "Developing and Promoting Nature-based Tourism in the Coral Triangle", now being implemented by WWF with the CTI-CFF.

An opportunity and a threat

The figures for tourism in the Coral Triangle are staggering. It is estimated that the revenue generated by nature-based tourism in the region in 2013-2014 was US$25 billion, and the industry is expected to be worth more than US$204 billion in 20 years!

With the number of tourists visiting Asia and the Pacific set to double to more than 530 million across the same time period, this presents both an opportunity and a threat.

If we can mobilize a good portion of these visitors to become advocates for sustainable tourism, we may see the threats from mass tourism minimised through a committed effort from national and provincial governments and other stakeholders. We can help develop and promote the right kind of tourism to protect beautiful islands, coastal areas, and amazing creatures that people travel from across the globe to see. And we can continue to sustain the livelihoods of coastal communities, the owners, guardians, or custodians of the islands, coral reefs, and cultural practises that tourists are drawn to.

This makes me realise how important it is for the CTI-CFF and its partners and stakeholders to be brave and bold, to continue with commitment and a sense of urgency on a path of sustainability and responsibility when it comes to developing and managing this massive opportunity.  

My fear is that if we don't, the value of the Coral Triangle's spectacular marine world will significantly decline over the coming years, as millions of people search for but increasingly fail to find that renowned beauty. And, more alarming, millions of coastal people will find it even harder to live, given the interruptions to their daily lives, their livelihoods, and their cultural practises brought  about by mass tourism and indiscriminate development.

Is this the future we see for the Coral Triangle?  
M’Buke, Papua New Guinea
© Jürgen Freund / WWF