The Coral Triangle Centre

The executive director of the Coral Triangle Centre
The executive director of the Coral Triangle Centre or CTC, Rili Djohani. (Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO)

Jakarta, IO – When Indonesians refer to their homeland they say, tanah air or our ‘land and water’ for 77 percent of Indonesia’s territory consists of water, making up altogether 6,4 million square kilometres of sea. In fact, some people refer to Indonesia not just as a maritime state but as a maritime continent. This is because when compared to West Asia which consists of 19 countries, Indonesia’s territory is larger, as West Asia only covers an area of 6,2 square kilometres.

In fact, there is a possibility Indonesia may even increase its maritime territory in three areas namely in the waters of Indonesia’s continental shelf west of Aceh, north of Papua and in the waters of the continental shelf south of the island of Sumba. This is because Indonesia is located over three tectonic plates namely, the Eurasian, the Indo-Australian and the Pacific plates. These plates at times shift causing changes in the continental shelf. Consequently, Indonesia has the potential to increase its sea territory by an area the size of the island of Madura to the north of Aceh, an area as large as the island of Sumatra to the north of Papua and an area the size of Singapore to the south of Sumba.

A map
A map of the Coral Reef Triangle at the Coral Reef Centre in Sanur, Bali. (Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO)

One of the greatest attributes of Indonesian waters is that they make up a large part of what is known as the Coral Reef Triangle. This is a triangular shaped system of coral reefs spread over an area touching six countries namely Indonesia, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, the Soloman Islands, the Philippines and Malaysia. The whole area has a size of 132,636 km which contains 30 percent of the world’s coral reefs. The Triangle also covers 1,5 percent of the world’s ocean area and seventy-six percent of the world’s coral species are found here, giving it the highest coral diversity in the world. These reefs also house 37 percent of the world’s coral reef fish species and 120 million people depend on these reefs for their livelihoods. In short, it is the most important coral reef region in the world.

The reef is however, under intense threat and as a reaction to those threats in 2009, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, the Soloman Islands and Timor Leste set up the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security which is frequently abbreviated to CTI-CFF. In this, Indonesia led the way for it was Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who inspired the leaders of the other five states whose waters form the coral reef triangle, to create the CTI-CFF.

Some of the beautiful coral art at the CTC.
Some of the beautiful coral art at the CTC. (Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO)

Its six member states ratified the “Agreement on the Establishment of the Regional Secretariat of the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF)” which provides the legal foundation for a Regional Secretariat to operate. This was established in April 2011 with its headquarters in Manado, Indonesia. In November 2017, the agreement was registered with the United Nations.

The bamboo
The bamboo pavilion at the entrance to the CTC with Ibu Herni as guide. (Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO)

The coral reef triangle partnership has agreed on a 10-year CTI-CFF Regional Plan of Action also known as CTI RPOA. It works to maintain the marine and coastal resources in the coral reef triangle by trying to solve issues threatening food security and marine biodiversity due to factors such as climate change, increased demographics etc, especially in the nations where the coral reef triangle is located, and which result in habitat change, rising demands and over-harvesting. The CTI action plan would probably not succeed had it not also determined that it would apply people-centred biodiversity conservation, sustainable development, poverty reduction and equitable benefit sharing programs. Experience has shown that conservation programs whether on land or at sea have proven only to be effective in the long-term when they are supported by the surrounding communities and for that they need to be people oriented.

The reefs in the triangle are the most threatened in the world and over 95 percent of those reefs are under threat. One of the biggest threats to the coral reef triangle is climate change and the acidification of the seas. The CTI-CFF have a plan which includes effective adaptation measures for coastal communities improving their resilience and investing in climate change vulnerability assessments. Another major threat is illegal fishing.

The bamboo pavilion at the entrance to the CTC with Ibu Herni as guide. (Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO)

In Indonesia, a very noteworthy private sector initiative established to support the Coral Reef Triangle Initiative action plan, is a foundation known as the Coral Triangle Centre or CTC. This Indonesian foundation was set up in 2010 by George Tahija, Hasyim Djalal, Made Soebadja and its executive director Rili Djohani.

Wayang Samudra
Wayang Samudra fish at the CTC. (Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO)

Rili Djohani is a marine ecologist, and it was her love of the reefs as well as her intense concern about them that inspired the creation of the CTC. She is an expert diver with diving experience in many areas of the world, but she found no reefs as beautiful and diverse as those in the Coral Reef Triangle and it became her mission to try to safeguard the reefs that not only provide a source of income for millions of coastal communities but that also feed hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

At its headquarters in Sanur, Bali the first things that visitors coming to the Centre see is its beautiful bamboo pavilion where information is available about the reefs and the centre. There is a map detailing the area of the Coral Reef Triangle. It also cites 17 marine protected areas in the Triangle. There are seven marine protected areas of the Triangle located in Indonesia. They are the Raja Ampat Islands in West Papua, the Banda Islands in the Central Moluccas, the Komodo National Park in East Nusa Tenggara, the Derawan Islands in East Kalimantan, the Wakatobi National Park in Southeast Sulawesi, Nusa Penida Island in Bali and Pantar Island in Alor, East Nusa Tenggara. Raja Ampat and the Banda Islands are the two areas with the highest bio-diversity in the Coral Reef Triangle.

The Coral Triangle Centre has worked in the field of coral reef conservation within the Coral Reef Triangle for more than ten years. It works together with the government and with local communities. In the protected areas of the Coral Reef Triangle, it is only the sea areas that are protected. These are known as marine protected areas. The marine protected area closest to its headquarters that CTC supports, is Nusa Penida in Bali. It is a learning site and anyone (both individuals as well as organizations such as schools, for example) interested in learning about marine protected areas is welcome. CTC does however, also support marine protected areas in other places. As much of the Coral Reef Triangle is located in Eastern Indonesia, CTC plans to open an office in the Banda Islands.

A crocheted coral reef
A crocheted coral reef as part of a cultural program at the CTC. (Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO)

The way the marine protected areas are protected is through a system of creating zones within the marine protected area. In order to create such zonation, the CTC, the government and local community sit together to jointly collect information about the uniqueness of certain marine areas (for example, there may be certain rare fish only found in a specific marine area), any natural resources in the area such as coral reefs or mangrove swamps, and how such resources are used by the community for fishing, diving, farming etc; also, where waste is disposed. In short, any relevant information about the specific marine area. Based on this information, it is then possible to designate zones in the marine protected areas.

First, there is the core zone where basically no activities are allowed other than passing through the area. So, no fishing or harvesting of the resources or tourism activities are permitted. This is in order to allow the fish and other natural resources to reproduce safely. If later, the fish and other marine resources in that particular area multiply in large numbers, there will be a spill-over into other areas and then what is known as fishing zones maybe created in those areas. This is where fishermen may fish or harvest other resources of the sea. Another area might be designated a tourism zone. So, tourism is limited to those zones. Tourism includes water sports such as for example surfing, boat racing, water skiing etc. In marine protected areas there may be seaweed farming (with the proper permits) but not mining.

Computer as part of the interactive exhibitions at the CTC. (Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO)

Since 2019, the CTC, helps to protect 387,000 hectares of marine habitat in seven marine protected areas that are in a critical state. CTC began with five staff and 12 training modules in 2011. By 2012, CTC had signed agreements with the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries. The following year, the Ministry recognized CTC as an affiliated training centre for marine conservation and the blue economy. Later that year, CTC went on to also sign a partnership agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries of Timor-Leste. The following year, CTC became a development partner to the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security. It has been busy with many projects since then although as with most organizations, its activities slowed down during the COVID pandemic.

CTC is now busy again and its centre in Sanur at Jalan Betngandang II 88-89, is well worth a visit. Besides interactive educational exhibitions and activities, it also has cultural exhibitions and workshops such as for example recently a very impressive coral reef exhibition entirely made of crocheted materials. The Centre has wayang or ‘shadow puppet’ performances using wayang created by CTC known as Wayang Samudra or ‘Ocean Shadow Puppets’. There is also an exciting 60-minute game that can be played in an escape room at the Centre which provides a virtual experience with the sea while educating the players about the coral reefs including advice on how we can help save the reefs and their marine inhabitants. It is very suitable for children and bearing in mind that the marine and coastal resources of the Coral Reef Triangle benefit not only up to 363 million people in the region, but probably the whole planet – if you are in Bali a visit to the Centre is a must and parents should definitely bring their children who can have a lot of fun while learning about the sea and how to protect it. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Wayang Samudra
The gunungan which closes a scene in the Wayang Samudra collection of the CTC in Bali. (Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO)