Southeast Asia paints pictures of beautiful lush lands, ocean views and magnificent coral reefs. Southeast Asia is rich in culture, a favorite tourist destination, and growing populations. Both the population of the lands by which they are located, by the very tourists who visit, and the trade goods they export threatens the depletion of coral reefs in these very countries.
The countries of Southeast Asia consist of Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand, Burma, and East Timor. The total population of this area is and there are estimates that within the next 20-30 years the population will increase by at least two hundred million. Most of the eco systems in these very countries are fragile. Many are stressed to their breaking points.
Indonesia for example has eighteen percent of the world’s total coral reefs along the shores. What is alarming is that approximately 80% of these same reefs are in danger of permanent destruction. Other countries have their own challenges to their coral reef health and survival, some of which will be discussed.
As the population continues to increase in these countries, the fallout is felt in the coral reefs. Construction of housing for people continues to render havoc on coral reefs, as housing is build on or in too close proximity to the reefs. Housing has been built right on coral reefs leading to their permanent destruction. Often areas are dynamite blasted which destroys coral that may have taken many centuries to form for construction projects.
Over fishing continues to hamper efforts to keep the coral reefs in balance. People’s demand for food sources and simple survival keep fishermen out netting species of fish faster than they can reproduce. In turn, the delicate balance of predator and prey is misbalanced which is felt by the coral because their health is maintained by the symbiotic relationship of not only the microscopic algae that provides them their bright colors, but the balance of the algae and other creatures that feed in and around the coral reefs.
Aquariums receive many of their beautiful fish from the coral reefs for the world demand for aquariums. Often cyanide is used in the water to knock the fish out but also damages the tiny living creatures called polyps in the coral beds. Another damaging practice is taking air hoses into these same reefs and blowing air to flush fish out and in the process damaging coral.
Tourists, especially divers, often damage coral by standing on them and breaking their fragile columns. Tourism is a major part of the economy of Southeast Asia, and these same tourist touches, walk on, and pollute the coral reefs. Garbage discarded by these same tourists can float over coral reefs creating its own set of challenges along with plastic ingested by other sea creatures.
Poor land management in these same countries as provided for creating farmlands in poor soils that require more fertilizers and pesticides that become part of the runoff into the coral. Run-off fills waterways and spills into coral beds. The crown-of-thorns starfish is an example where the enriched nutrients in water have allowed this poisonous creature to grow and destroy areas of coral reefs.
There are other challenges presented by mining, deforestation and other not eco-friendly practices, including increased emissions of carbon dioxide from an increased amount of vehicles in these countries. What to do? Perhaps the first step is to enforce those same laws meant to protect the coral reefs. What about regulating world trade on certain species of fish and coral and other creatures to ensure that people are not over stressing the coral reefs? What about alternative livelihoods and other means for growing the very same food people are demanding. Much can be done to reduce dramatically the threat to the coral reefs, but first it takes commitment, not only by the countries, but also by the entire world.