Cafe Scientifique: Biodiversity of the Coral Triangle

One week after launching the traveling exhibition AGoS (A Glass of the Sea), scientists Dr. Terry Gosliner and Dr. Meg Burke from the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) engaged the guests of The Mind Museum in a conversation about our country's rich marine biodiversity.

This Saturday morning, Terry and Meg met with their audience via a Skype session, and first spoke about why we need to preserve our biodiversity int he first place. Aside from supporting a global fisheries industry, preserving marine life in the Coral Triangle also promotes the stability of the ecosystem as well as the organisms (including us) that depend on this for survival.

By studying new species found in the Verde Island Passage, we obtain important data for understanding the effects of climate change, which areas should be prioritized for establishment as a protected area, and we also get to know species that can be good sources for pharmaceuticals, food, and genetic stocks.

Coral reefs are not as vast as tropical rainforests, though they are often compared to these biomes because they are repositories of biodiversity. But why exactly do coral reefs support such life? Of the stony coral that can build reefs, there are less than 1,000 species known1. These corals' limestone skeletons resist waves, and provide habitats for a variety of marine organisms, including fishes2. In the same way that tropical rainforests provide many possible habitats for life and thus a home for many communities to thrive and coexist with each other, so do coral reefs, the forests of the ocean.

The Coral Triangle is a roughly triangular area which includes parts of the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Papua New Guinea. Compared to the Caribbean, which has around 66 known coral reef-building species, Papua New Guinea has 420, Raja Ampat, Indonesia has 553, and the Philippines has 540. Hence, any budding marine biologist born in the Philippines is fortunate to live in a country that supports many species he or she can study.

CAS's expeditions have led to the discovery of many new species of animals, like nudibranchs, Dr. Gosliner's favorite animal. They also shared that the next frontier for expeditions are deep reefs: coral reefs that can be found from 200 ft (60 m) to 500 ft (150 m) deep. For context, scuba divers usually only reach depths of above 200 ft.

Aside from their expeditions, CAS also engages in educational and conservation outreaches: teacher workshops and community programs in regions such as Puerto Galera, Batangas and Metro Manila. They have also collaborated with The Mind Museum in the facilitation of our Marine Science Camp last May 2014.

After their talk, a Q&A session was held with the audience. It was very interesting to see how many people who watched the talk and asked questions had backgrounds in marine biology and were passionate about environmental conservation. For instance, a few audience members asked the scientists for advice regarding land reclamation, and a current problem with a mine that was to be built very near the ocean, potentially threatening coral reefs because of the sediments that would be carried into the water.

Terry and Meg also shared that ordinary citizens can do their part to help in protecting and preserving the coral reefs because it's not too late. Since the Philippines relies heavily on coal for electricity, this contributes to greenhouse gases which warm the oceans, and contribute to coral bleaching. Even simple acts we can all do, like avoiding the use of plastic bags and cutting down on electricity use when it's unnecessary, can make a difference. 


1. McIntyre, A. (2010). Life in the world's oceans: Diversity, distribution, and abundance. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
2. Done, TJ et al. (1996). Functional roles of biodiversity: A global perspective. John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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