Feature_940 x 410_Rodger Klein

Variety is the Spice of Diving

Published May 24, 2013 in MARINE LIFE, RESEARCH & CONSERVATION

The waters around Wakatobi are considered to have one of the world’s highest degrees of coral reef biodiversity. But what exactly does that mean, and is it important to the average diver? Here’s a little lesson on the basics of marine biodiversity, and how it can make for a better dive.

Biodiversity is simply a tally of the variety of species that can be found in a given ecosystem. There are many factors that determine the overall number of species in an ecosystem, one of which is time. The longer an ecosystem goes without major changes or die-offs, the more time evolution has to take divergent paths and fill an ever-wider range of specialty niches.

Wakatobi coral reel_Walt Stearns
Wakatobi is located in the Coral Triangle, a region that encompasses one of the world’s highest degrees of coral reef biodiversity.  Photo by Walt Stearns

Geographic Advantages

Historically, the ocean region bordered by Indonesia, the Philippines and New Guinea, known as the Coral Triangle, was not severely affected by two great ice ages, which caused mass species die-offs in other regions. Some 75 percent of the world’s coral species can be found within the Coral Triangle, and as you travel either east or west from this epicenter of biodiversity, the number of species decreases. At the Western edge of the Indian Ocean, or the Eastern edge of the Pacific, you will only find about 25 percent of the species present at Wakatobi. The Atlantic/Caribbean region has even less coral diversity, about one-tenth the number of species found in the Indo-Pacific—about 70 species of corals as compared to the Indo-Pacific’s more than 700.

Sea Turtle eating sponge_Rodger Klein
Today, all seven species of sea turtles (Green, Kemp’s ridley, Olive ridley, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Flatback and Loggerhead) are either critically endangered or threatened all around the world. At Wakatobi you will find sea turtles on almost every dive. Photo by Rodger Klein

The counts are similar for the fish species that call reefs home. More than 3,000 species of fish live in the Coral Triangle, including the largest fish, the whale shark, and the coelacanth. It also provides habitat to six out of the world’s seven marine turtle species. By contrast, Hawaii, which is known for it’s numerous species of endemics, tallies just over 600 species of reef fish, while the Caribbean comes in at around 500.

Environment Matters

The environment also influences biodiversity. Coral reef ecosystems need warm, clear waters to thrive. If there’s too much runoff from large rivers or urban growth nearby, the reefs can be choked by siltation or pollution. The waters must be warm, but not too warm. Below 25 C, coral growth is retarded. Above 29 C, the symbiotic algae living in the corals begins to die off and stress the corals.

“The Coral Triangle is recognized as the global centre of marine biodiversity and a global priority for conservation. It is also called the ‘Amazon of the seas’ and covers 5.7 million square kilometers of ocean waters.”  Journal of Biogeography

Depth is important too. Very shallow waters have too much temperature fluctuation and disruptive wave and surge action. Too deep, and light is diminished, which decreases diversity. At depths of 20 meters, there is plenty of light, and not much wave action, even during large storms, so more species can survive.

Diversity on Wakatobi reef_Norbert Probst
Very shallow waters have too much temperature fluctuation and disruptive wave and surge action. Too deep, and light is diminished, which decreases diversity.  Photo by Norbert Probst

Wakatobi shallow coral reef_photo Walt Stearns
Hard and soft corals compete for space on Wakatobi’s healthy reefs. Photo by Walt Stearns

Why is biodiversity important to divers? That’s simple. When you go on a dive vacation, you want to see lots of stuff. But you don’t want to just see lots of the same stuff all the time. A biodiverse reef in pristine condition lets you see more species with less effort. If you are interested in seeing and learning about the most biodiverse coral reef region in the world, it’s time for you to start planning a trip to Wakatobi today!

Consider a visit to Wakatobi and see more incredible marine life than you have ever dreamed of. Contact us directly at office@wakatobi.com or complete a quick trip inquiry at wakatobi.com. A guest experience representative will be in touch with you to answer any questions and provide information about your next dream dive vacation.

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