The Catlin Seaview Survey team is headed this week to the low isles of the Karimunjawa archipelago. These idyllic looking tropical islands are the epitome of sunny tropical paradise, with brilliant white sand beaches and gin-clear waters. Corals have thrived here for ages, with some of the highest diversity of both hard corals and sparkling tropical fish seen anywhere on the planet.
However, the natural charms of these islands are now not the only characteristics of note for Karimunjawa. The name originally meant “A stone’s throw from Java,” and indeed this close proximity to the industry, population and market center of Indonesia is one of the most important factors to consider when assessing the natural condition of this these idyllic looking islands. They are located only about 80 kilometers out to sea north of the highly industrialized city of Japara, and the looming presence of some 140 million residents of Java just to the south are taking a toll on the coral health and fish density.
The special character of the ocean resources of these islands made it among the first areas recognized by the government for marine conservation in Indonesia, and it was one of the earliest locations placed under formalized conservation protection, designated as a Strict Natural Reserve in 1988. Karimunjawa National Park (KNP) later developed from this, and the managed areas now total around 1100 km2 of ocean, and some 16 km2 of land, scattered among 27 islands. Unlike national parks in many other countries, there are about 9000 residents, with most households garnering a portion of their food and income from the sea.
Like many regions in the Coral Triangle, this mix of humans and coral has resulted in some recent degradation of the reef resources. We will survey the coral cover on seven islands, and will combine our photographic record with one of the oldest ongoing dive surveys in Indonesia, run by our expedition partners at Diponegoro University, to develop a picture of the status of the resource and an evaluation of the effectiveness of the complex management structure in the park. The KNP has demonstrated some significant management successes, in particular the reduction in destructive fishing practices and the elimination of the exportation of fish, and we look forward to seeing how these areas are recovering.
It is true that the reefs of the Karimunjawa National Park are affected by human pressures, but they also represent a bright spot for the hope that effective and careful marine management can make a real difference in the future for corals. We hope that when we begin diving in two days, we can document thriving reefs, healthy fish populations, and developing and sustainable human activities.