Indonesia's Waters

Maleo Beach Photo
In 2009, WCS helped purchase this beach on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, where endangered maleo chicks hatch from under the volcano-heated soil.
©WCS Indonesia
Man Looking at Sea Photo
Despite severe threats to aquatic ecosystems from overfishing and other human activities, many opportunities exist to simultaneously conserve Indonesia's coral reef ecosystems and meet the needs of its people.
©R. Graham
Underwater Diver Photo
Having only recently discovered many coral and fish species living in Indonesian waters, scientists do not yet know the conservation status and environmental needs of many of these newfound species.
©Fakhrizal Setizwan

The Indonesian archipelago lies at the heart of the world-renowned “Coral Triangle,” a marine biodiversity jewel that also encompasses parts of Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines. Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world, and the pressures of an ever-increasing coastal population, coupled with fragile management systems and intensive fishing, have made its reefs among the most threatened in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Indonesia’s coral reefs and associated ecosystems, including grass beds and mangroves, are home to more than 3,000 species of fish (including two that were recently added to the IUCN red-list—the endangered Napolean wrasse and Barramundi cod). The reefs encompass more than 500 species of corals and also shelter an astounding 10,000-plus species of invertebrates and plants, many of which have not yet been identified. As the world’s epicenter for sea life, the Coral Triangle is a crucial source of income for millions of Indonesians and others.

Fast Facts

  • The Indonesian archipelago contains 17,000 islands.
  • Many of the coral and fish species that live in the waters surrounding Indonesia have only recently been discovered, so their status and environmental needs are still unknown.
  • In 2009, leaders from Indonesia, the Philippines, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Malaysia officially launched the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security. The partnership will help safeguard the area’s marine and coastal environments.


Indonesia’s marine ecosystems are under enormous pressure from changes in ocean temperature and human activities, including destructive fishing practices such as bombing, cyanide poisoning, and overfishing. In Aceh, rebuilding efforts following the devastating tsunami have introduced more intensive methods and gear for harvesting resources, which could potentially replace traditional, low impact fishing practices, and endanger precious natural resources. There is a pressing need to encourage the turning tide in national awareness toward conservation, which has instilled in the public a new sense of urgency about coral reefs.

WCS Responds

WCS is at the forefront of the effort to protect Indonesia’s reefs. Though the threats are severe, there are tremendous opportunities to work with communities and the government of Indonesia to conserve coral reef ecosystems while meeting the needs of local communities. The government of Indonesia is playing a lead role in the regional Coral Triangle Initiative, which is designed to meet the challenges of reef conservation across the planet’s most diverse marine ecosystems—an effort WCS supports. WCS also helped the Indonesian government incorporate scientific data and community interests into its rezoning of Karimunjawa National Park. In Aceh, WCS is helping to establish community-based coral reef protected areas that empower local people to manage their own marine resources. Healthy coral reefs are economic engines for the Acehnese people, supplying commercially valuable fish as well as tourism dollars from recreational divers.

WCS Projects

Post-tsunami Coral Recovery in Aceh

The 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean damaged coral reefs, which provided food and livelihoods to the communities hit hardest by the disaster. In the years that followed, WCS scientists examined how the reefs were recovering and developed a conservation model balancing the needs of local fisheries and coral ecosystems.

From the Newsroom

In Indonesia, a New Law Protects Manta RaysFebruary 19, 2014

Ray populations in Indonesia face serious threats from overfishing, but recently the government has taken action to ensure their future.

Troubled Waters: Massive Coral Bleaching in IndonesiaAugust 17, 2010

WCS conservationists and their partners document large-scale coral bleaching and death in the wake of rising surface temperatures in the Andaman Sea on the order of a stunning 4 degrees Celsius.

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