Harlequin Crab (Lissocarcinus orbicularis) camouflaged on Sea Cucumber, Sulu Sea, Borneo, Malaysia.
© Hiroya Minakuchi/Minden Pictures
Take a look at Southeast Asia’s Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape. From a bird’s eye view, you’ll see nearly 900,000 square kilometers of ocean spanning parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. You’ll see a gigantic body of water replete with tropical islands where threatened turtle species roam and resourceful people live and work.
Zoom into the Sulu-Sulawesi and certain places stand out. One is the busy Verde Passage between the Philippine islands of Luzon and Mindoro, a stretch of water that serves as a main artery for ships transporting both goods and tourists. As luck would have it, it’s also a spot that conservationists prize because it contains the most concentrated diversity of marine life on the planet.
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The traffic jam of people and wildlife at Verde Passage highlights the need for us to ensure that trade, tourism, and wildlife coexist everywhere. At times, it’s not easy. Today, there are more and more people turning to the oceans for food. That means there’s less and less seafood to go around. Commercial boats removing fish from the Sulu-Sulawesi do so in larger numbers than ever before, sometimes damaging reefs along the way. If we’re not careful, soon there will be nothing left.
We’re working with partners in the Sulu-Sulawesi to make sure that doesn’t happen. Together, we’re using science to make the case for better managed marine areas and advocating sustainable fishing. We’re also putting that science to work helping policymakers prioritize marine conservation.
It’s paying off. In November 2006, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo arrived at Verde Passage to sign an executive order calling on her government to establish guidelines for designating biodiversity areas and critical habitats, and to require a stricter process for assessing the environmental impact of development.
Government support is just one aspect of conserving this important seascape. But through such partnerships and with the support of local communities, successful conservation is happening.