In this episode of visual meditation, we invite you to fly with us over a beautiful coral reef of Wakatobi. As mentioned before in “Take a Minute VII”, healthy coral reefs play a vital role in the overall condition of the oceans at large. Although they only make up a very small percentage of the ocean’s floor, a disproportionally large percentage of all marine life lives on, or visits the coral reefs, during their lifetime. And not only do healthy coral reefs sustain life in the oceans, but they also protect life on land as well. It is therefore sad to see the state that many coral reefs around the world are in. Senseless destruction, fueled by ignorance and greed, has left the majority of reefs world wide dead or dying.
Destruction and protection
Fortunately, there are some that have understood the value of coral reefs and have started projects to protect them. But protecting the reefs is a difficult thing to do, especially if one doesn’t have the support of the local communities. Many of the richest reef systems on this planet are located in regions where people are most dependent on the ocean and reefs for their food. Unlike the fishing industry, these people are not so much fishing for profit, as they are for survival.
But humans will be humans, and some have gone to more destructive fishing practices, like dynamite fishing and cyanide fishing, out of sheer laziness and/or to get financially ahead in life by supplying the aquarium trade and/or have more fish to sell on the market. Sometimes these activities are not even done directly for themselves, but for unscrupulous fishing companies, which provide their employees with a meagre salary. No doubt, these people do this to provide their families with better chances. But in doing so, they basically destroy not only the reefs, but also the future chances of their children being able to feed their own families. Something that’s often not very well thought through. However, desperate people will do desperate things …
Conservation at work
It is therefore not an easy task for people, especially foreigners, to start a conservation project and to make it understood to the local population that it would be in their best interest to participate. After all, most of the time there are no immediate results for them to profit from. Understanding that inhabitants of a region have to profit more directly from such conservation efforts, has led Lorenz Mäder (owner/founder of Wakatobi Dive Resort), together with the population of Tomia and Lintea islands in the region of Wakatobi, to come up with the “Collaborative Reef Protection Program”. With this program, the resort basically leases the use of the reefs of the local villages, and pays them fees/financial aid, under the condition that destructive fishing practices are no longer permitted. Restrictions on how and where one can fish, as well as agreements on particular “No Take” zones, are also included in this program.
To make sure these agreements are adhered to, the reefs are “patrolled” by the boats of the resort, as well as by boats from the local communities (Patroli). The program doesn’t end there. Besides the sustainable income to the local villages in the form of these “lease” fees, Wakatobi Dive Resort also provides electricity, helps with education projects, provides infrastructure, supplies the local hospital with necessities when needed, but most importantly the resort provides over 200 local people with a job! This is a place where jobs are hard to find, or come by. This program has led to a sort of mutually beneficial symbiosis (Mutualism) between the Wakatobi Dive Resort and the surrounding villages on Tomia and Lintea, whereby both profit from this “Collaborative Reef Protection Program”.
For the people of the region, there’s a steady sustainable income, as well as the before mentioned benefits. But because of the reef protection efforts, there is an increasing amount of fish, and in larger sizes. This means that it has become much easier for the population to catch the fish needed to support their families. All of this has led to a higher standard of living for the villagers on these islands and made the people believe that conservation is more profitable than destruction. On the other hand, the resort benefits from this arrangement as well. The reefs around Tomia and Lintea, as well as the Sawa reef system, are a sight to behold! Kilometre after kilometre of unspoiled reefs with a mind-blowing abundance of marine life.
That combined with an impeccable service, Wakatobi Dive Resort draws in people from all over the world. And even though the resort can most definitely not be described as a budget destination, the number of repeat guests is very high. Which is of course great news for all that are a part of this “symbiosis”.
The coral reefs of Wakatobi
But the resort takes its conservation efforts a step further. Apart from installing/maintaining moorings for their dive operations, as well as regular reef monitoring and cleaning when needed, the resort also treats its wastewater in biological ways, to prevent nutrients from entering the ocean. But most of all, and this is something that is often overlooked in other dive operations, it implements strict rules to minimise diver impact. All guests have to agree to the resort’s dive conduct regulations during their diving activities, and failure to comply can lead to exclusion from diving without a refund. This, in our opinion, is a vital step in reef conservation, because the dive industry is responsible for a large part in the destruction of reefs worldwide, through its unregulated tourism.
The “Collaborative Reef Protection Program” has been a great success, and now has over 30 km of reef under its protection. The reef systems around Wakatobi Dive Resort are one of the few places in the world where the quality and diversity of the reefs, that are already stunning, are actually getting better by the year! A great example of how conservation can, and perhaps should be done, on a larger scale. After all, conservation is only possible if everybody profits from it …