Call to Action
The Unprecedented level of biodiversity in the Bird’s Head Peninsula can be more than partially attributed to the deep-water basins that surround the entire Coral Triangle. These basins have served as a barrier to environmental change throughout a substantial part of Earth’s geological history, shielding the Coral Triangle region from encroaching glaciers during our planet’s ice ages. Since cooling was mitigated by the protection of deep-water trenches, there was never a temperature-induced reduction in species diversity, meaning that life has continued to proliferate for millions of years. Conversely, these trenches also protect the Coral Triangle, and Raja Ampat in particular, from rising temperatures. But even with this incredible natural barrier, climate change is beginning to take hold.
If even a place as environmentally isolated as Raja Ampat is starting to feel the effects of climate change, we as stewards of our planet must listen to what this is telling us about our warming world and to act responsibly to protect it for the future. We are at a tipping point in terms of how much carbon we can add to the atmosphere without warming our planet so much that we significantly alter all life on Earth and throw ourselves into a downward spiral that cannot be stopped.
Climate change impacts overview on Coral Triangle
1. Coral Triangle seas warm by 1-4 °C
2. Acidic seas will drive reef collapse
3. More bleaching occurrences
4. Longer and more intense floods and droughts
5. Sea level rise of a minimum of one metre
6. More intense cyclones and typhoons
7. More annual climate variability in the Coral Triangle
8. Important habitats under threat
More VITALS about Coral Reefs
1. In a recent study published in the journal Nature, climate departure in the tropics is expected to take place in 2020. The study presents, “a new index of the year when the projected mean climate of a given location moves to a state continuously outside the bounds of historical variability under alternative greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. Unprecedented climates will occur earliest in the tropics and among low-income countries, highlighting the vulnerability of global biodiversity and the limited governmental capacity to respond to the impacts of climate change.” The findings shed light on the urgency of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions if climates potentially harmful to biodiversity and society are to be prevented. This landmark article co-authored by 14 climate scientists explains how species extinctions will soar faster and earlier in the tropics, further driving home the point of how critical it is for us to both understand and protect the Coral Triangle in every way possible.
2. Only 2.6 percent of the Coral Triangle’s reefs are currently protected – we need to lobby this to at least 20%.
3. In the last 25 years, we have lost 50% of coral reefs worldwide. One-third of reef-building corals face elevated extinction risk from climate change and local impacts.
4. In 2016 and 2017, bleaching occurred in 90% of corals in the Great Barrier Reef, extending across an area of over 1500 kilometres –
(Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies).
5. In 2016, mass coral bleachings were widespread and documented from Reunion Island, Sudan, Maldives, and Bali across to Okinawa, Japan.
6. The Coral Triangle stretches across six countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific (Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste) and is the richest place on earth in terms of biodiversity. In an area no more than 1% of the Earth’s surface, evolution has produced species and ecosystems that are unrivalled in number, colour and diversity. Within its seas lie the richest marine communities and ecosystems found anywhere on planet Earth. With over 30% of the world’s coral reefs, including 76% of the world’s reef building corals and over 35% of the world’s coral reef fish species, the Coral Triangle is remarkable and invaluable.
7. Without action on climate change, coral reefs in the Coral Triangle will vastly diminish by 2100, the ability of the region’s coastal environments to feed people will decline by 80%, and the livelihoods of around 100 million people will have been lost or severely impacted. Climate change in the Coral Triangle is already having a strong impact on coastal ecosystems due to the waters becoming warmer and acidifying as well as rising sea levels.
8. Millions of people directly depend on the reef systems in the Coral Triangle — for food, jobs, tourism and coastal protection — and would suffer greatly if this ecosystem were to decline. This is in addition to many more people who depend on other marine and coastal resources for their livelihoods.
9. In 2016, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed the critical threshold of 400 parts per million (ppm). Stabilising atmospheric carbon dioxide at or below 450 ppm is absolutely essential if Coral Triangle countries are to meet their objective of retaining coastal ecosystems and allowing people to prosper in the coastal areas of the Coral Triangle.
10. Catastrophe is happening right now in coral reefs around the world, and our efforts must be directed to reduce the extent of the damage and to protect what remains.
Climate Change Paradigm: Atmosphere to Ocean to Climate
The Elysium Heart of the Coral Triangle mission stems from its explorers’ shared understanding that climate change is intimately related to ocean change. The oceans play an essential role in regulating global climate and regional temperature, and are crucial for controlling the carbon, oxygen, and water cycles of the planet. The oceans are a vital part of the complex geophysical and biochemical systems that support life on Earth.
For example, the exchanges of cold and warm water that take place in the Antarctic’s Southern Ocean and the seas of the Arctic are key drivers of thermohaline circulation throughout all the oceans across the globe, and thermohaline circulation in turn plays a fundamental role in controlling the world’s climate. Another example: there is strong evidence that, due to impacts on our atmosphere stemming from the emission of greenhouse gases, significant changes are taking place in the chemical composition of the oceans. Those changes are affecting the oceans’ pH levels and productivity, and are impairing the ability of ocean life to survive and thrive. Impacts on the well-being of ocean life are beginning to affect other forms of life as well. These issues are vital signs, telling us that our planet is in distress.
Human impact on the ocean is increasing every year with global warming and acidification reducing ocean productivity, overdevelopment and pollution contaminating the sea, and an increasing
demand for food causing over-harvesting of the world’s fisheries.
Addressing these issues requires a combination of exploration and quantitative analysis to understand the underlying processes controlling diversity and productivity of marine life. Such knowledge is essential to allow us to better protect ocean life and thereby protect ourselves.
The members of the Elysium Heart of the Coral Triangle and all affiliated agents and organizations will embark on a systematic global awareness campaign, using a variety of publications and activities, to increase public and governmental understanding of climate change and ocean change in the Arctic. A crucial goal is to explain that ocean change is a key element of climate change, and addressing the serious changes occurring in our oceans must be a part of addressing climate change if we are going to achieve the most beneficial outcomes.
Saving the Ocean’s Barometers
Dolphins, sharks, and whales are crucial umbrella species in ocean ecosystems, and are therefore barometers of our ocean’s health. By preserving the existence of these creatures in the oceans, we will be preserving an essential strand in the web of life on Earth. The indiscriminate culling of these magnificent and important animals must cease, and no effort should be spared to achieve that result.
Protecting Ocean Health
Ocean life influences the chemical composition of the sea, thereby impacting ocean-atmosphere gas exchange and global climate. Human induced ocean warming and acidification are changing the balance between ocean biology and its physical and chemical environment. It is incumbent on us to explore and quantify ocean life and its environment, from plankton through top predators, in order to understand and protect the health of this vital component of our planet’s biosphere. Studying key groups of animals like zooplankton (e.g. krill, copepods, salps), and higher predators (e.g. dolphins, sharks, whales, seals and seabirds) can help us keep our finger on the pulse of ocean life.
The Elysium Heart of the Coral Triangle explorers are each committed to using their expertise to increase worldwide understanding of ocean change as a key element of climate change. The explorers have taken on the personal responsibility of achieving that goal by following in the wake of Shackleton’s epic 20th century expedition, and now by expanding upon the coral triangle mission to create an unparalleled artistic portrait and crucial scientific index of the current conditions in the Arctic as climate change begins to take a toll on the region.
The Elysium Heart of the Coral Triangle explorers are dedicated to the notion that preservation of life on Earth as we know it depends on each individual accepting personal responsibility for educating him or herself about climate change issues and for reducing his or her own carbon footprint.
For Future Generations
The Elysium explorers will strive to create a comprehensive and compelling artistic portrait of heartland of the Coral Triangle, and document its current ecological status scientifically. The explorers hope the fruits of their efforts will bring the plight of this crucial region to the attention of the world, inspire action to fight climate change, yield vital benchmark data for measuring the future effects on the Coral Triangle comprising of a magnificent collection of sights, sounds, and information to be treasured by future generations.