The Catlin Seaview Survey’s Shallow Reef Team arrived today in North Sulawesi, to investigate reef conditions in the Bunaken National Park region. Covering nearly 900 square kilometres of ocean the park is scattered with large areas of glittering reef, having been established in 1991 it is one of the oldest national parks in Indonesia. The five islands of Bunaken, Manado Tua, Mantehage, Nain and Siladen only make up about three per cent of the park
Bunaken National Park is squarely in the centre of the Coral Triangle, with legendary coral and fish diversity. There are some five times as many coral species here as the entire Hawaii archipelago, along with an estimated 70 per cent of all the known coral-dependent fish species of the western tropical Pacific. This has made the park a sport diving mecca, hosting some 30,000 visitors a year. The beauty and uniqueness of this area has been recognized by the Indonesian Government, which has placed the headquarters of the Coral Triangle Initiative in Manado, the primary regional city in North Sulawesi. The Coral Triangle Initiative is a multilateral partnership of 6 countries formed in 2007 to address the urgent threats facing coral reefs,
Bunaken is notably different from many protected areas in other parts of the world in that it hosts a large resident human population, with 22 villages inside the park boundaries comprising about 35,000 people. Most of these people are fishermen or farmers, relying on the environment for income and sustenance, although there are also an increasing number of locals working in the green-tourism fields, as expert dive guides, tour operators, and boat crews.
Reconciling all this economic and extractive activity has been a thorny issue, as it all takes place right in the watershed and waters adjacent to the reef. Indeed there has recently been some indications of negative effects on resident fish and coral populations, as both commercial and sustenance fishing has increased. However, this development also represents a hope for the future, for as the local green economy matures, with its inherent reliance on having a healthy ecosystem, so too does the recognition that reef preservation is paramount to a healthy economy.
We will be photographing areas both within and outside of the park boundaries, looking for differences in order to understand how management can best achieve reef preservation. We expect dive conditions to be excellent, as much of this territory is well protected from the prevailing winds, and visibility should also be good in these sheltered spots. We are all looking forward to getting underwater in the next few days!