Coral reef cover seen in Karimun Java islands, 80 kilometers northwest of Central Java's city of Jepara. (Photo courtesy of University of Queensland, Australia)

Reef Destruction Could Cost Indonesia Over $30 Billion in Annual GDP


AUGUST 25, 2016

Jakarta. In a country where two thirds of the population live within 50 kilometers of the coast, coral reefs aren’t just a tourist attraction, they’re the source of livelihood for millions of people.

Researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) partnered with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), along with representatives from 22 countries to map over 1,000 kilometers of coral reefs and examine the economic impact of their destruction.

“[Coral reefs] are not just a lovely place,” the project’s chief scientist, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, said. “It’s not about environmentalism, it’s about economics. Its about the livelihoods and food systems of people.”

Hoegh-Guldberg said that Indonesia’s reefs produce $30 billion annually in gross domestic product, which is a conservative estimate when you take into account the number of fishery products that don’t go through formally recorded markets.

If coral reefs continue to die in Indonesia and around the world, the fisheries that support 500 million people will also be gone, costing seven percent of the livelihood of the world’s population.

Hoegh-Guldberg stressed the need to put natural capital, things like coral reefs, seagrass beds and terrestrial habitats, into the balance sheet along with other business assets.  He used the example of mangroves, a small coastal forest, to illustrate this.

“Some people think best thing you can do with [mangroves] is cover them in concrete and put a resort on them,” he said. “But a lot of people don’t understand that mangroves are worth a trillion dollars in asset value when you take into account their contribution to fisheries. We’ve got to put natural capital into the same spreadsheet as we put our normal economic things, our earnings from X, Y, and Z.”

He explained that global warming, along with coastal pollution and over fishing, has caused the loss of 50 percent of the world’s coral reefs since the 1980s. To stop this, he said, the world needs to commit to following the Paris Agreement on climate change, where nations around the world will work to slow climate change through implementing more sustainable practices.

In Indonesia, he said creating and enforcing systems of marine spatial planning, reduction of plastic bag use, and having active community advocates could create healthier coral reefs that will sustain generations to come.

“Many people have been living on these coasts, have been fishing there for generations,” he said.  “They might say ‘who is this fancy scientist to tell me to change my ways.’ But if we have a discussion, once they understand the impact, it's quite powerful because then they tell their friends, their fishing buddies and colleagues. We can get to a better place through education.”

UQ’s mapping project aims to collect baseline data, to understand the current state and path to recovery of the world’s reefs. They have taken over 600,000 images and mapped over 1,000 kilometers of coral reefs in the last four years.

In 2007, Indonesia's coral triangle has been named by the World Wildlife Fund as one of their conservation priorities. The coral triangle covered more than 6.5 million square kilometers and has been a living place of 600 coral reef species, or nearly 75 percent of the total species in the world. There's also around 3000 species of fish, including whale and a living fossil coelacanth who live in the deep water of Sulawesi.

Hoegh-Guldberg explained the project is aiming to inform the public, as there is only less than one percent of the world’s population who has seen a coral reef and don't realize how important it is to protect them.

To raise awareness, UQ teamed up with Google Maps to create a “virtual diving” map where anyone with Internet access can explore these reefs akin to using street view to explore cities on Google Maps.

“Understanding the challenges that coral reefs face is an important mission,” the lead scientist of the project’s shallow reef component, Manuel Gonzalez-Rivero, said. “Equally important, is bringing as many people as possible on the scientific journey through outreach and engagement. Without that, science may have little impact.”