The people of Bahoi, a village that hugs the coastline of north Sulawesi in Indonesia, live off the richness of the sea. They mostly fish for a living, so a healthy ocean is essential if they are to support themselves.
To protect their livelihood and ensure that the sea will continue to provide for future generations, the people of the village that is a two-hour drive from the provincial capital city of Manado, have set up an 8ha marine protected area (MPA) with the help of local conservation groups Yapeka and Celebio.
No fishing or collecting of marine animals is allowed in this reserve off the coastline, and the effect of this protection is obvious during an afternoon of snorkelling: within the sanctuary is a thriving reef filled with myriad species of hard and soft corals, fish and other invertebrates. In the adjacent area that is unprotected, the reef is degraded.
Sulawesi sits within the Coral Triangle, the 100,000sq km of sea bordered by Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste, that possesses 34% of the world’s coral reefs, and is the underwater equivalent of the Amazon, home to more marine species than anywhere else on Earth.
These coastal forests not only harbour abundant fauna, they are nurseries for marine life, offer shoreline protection and provide materials such as timber, tannin and fibre. And like terrestrial forests, mangrove forests have the ability to store carbon; the capacity amounts to some six tonnes of carbon per hectare per year, according to Javanaud.
Seagrass beds, underwater meadows that can be found between mangrove forests and coral reefs, are an equally important and diverse marine ecosystem. They are reserves of biodiversity, harbouring shellfish, sea worms, sea urchins, starfish, crabs and also particularly vulnerable species like seahorses.
Species like dugongs, manatees and turtles feed on marine grasses. Seagrass beds also provide nursery grounds for many species. They are deemed as “ecosystem engineers” – their roots stabilise the seabed, protecting it from erosion, and they can absorb pollutants, thus preventing pollution in coastal areas.
Seagrass beds are also capable of storing carbon – some 80,000 tonnes per sq km – mostly in the soil around the blades of grass.
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