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A choclate chip sea star at Wakatobi national park, Indonesia

Snorkeling the 99 percent complete reefs of Wakatobi

Wakatobi: 99 percent complete. I recently had the opportunity to explore a small fraction of reefs found within Wakatobi National Park, lying off the southern coast of Sulawesi, Indonesia. First impression: Wow…Fantastic coral coverage, diversity, and health were the norm on every site I was able to check out. The shallow fringing reefs gave way to vertical dropoffs where the fish life was also impressive. Parts of the national park are no-take zones for local fishermen while others areas, especially near snorkeling and dive sites, have a 100 m zone where fishing is not allowed. At least within the park, these simple conservation methods have led to an observable uptick in fish populations. While much of the reef environment I witnessed was as vibrant and dynamic as I’ve seen anywhere in Indonesia, there was a set of fish obviously missing – sharks. The apex predators of most tropical marine systems are sharks and these were the group of organisms not perceptibly present in normal numbers throughout Wakatobi. Just like many places in the coral triangle, shark-finning has reduced apex predator numbers to dangerously low levels yet there is still time for populations to rebound. All it will take is a reduction in the shark fin market… A little easier said than done.