Look under the sea of ​​the Indonesian archipelago through this photo report Global Voices

A frogfish (antennariidae) photographed in Amed, Indonesiasa coral reefs. Photo used with permission.

As the largest archipelago in the world, with over 17,000 islands, Indonesia’s coastal waters are home to a vast and diverse network of marine life and ecosystems. As rising ocean temperatures With climate change increasingly threatening marine ecosystems, it’s worth taking a personal look at some of the strange, otherworldly creatures that inhabit the oceans we hold dear, as well as the forces that threaten them.

This photo essay presents a brief overview of the biodiversity of the Indonesian coastal ecosystem and discusses the environmental and social threats they face.

Nudibranch Pikachu

Nudibranch Pikachu. Photo used with permission.

These little creatures are found in the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific. They get their name because they look like the iconic Pokemon character. Spanning only five centimeters in length, they are difficult to locate and are a relatively rare find.

The boxer crab

The boxer crab. photo used with permission.

The Boxer Crab is one of the most interesting creatures found on the Indonesian seabed. It has a symbiotic relationship with stinging sea anemones – it feeds them in exchange for protection – and holds them in its front claws to scare away potential predators.

“These crabs wield sea anemones attached to their claws in horizontal motions as they move,” explains Media of the Seven Seas, a marine watch group. “This colorful display serves as a natural deterrent to predators, and when directly threatened, the crab will use the sea anemone in a forward ‘punching’ motion towards the aggressor.”

Imperial shrimp

Emperor shrimp. Photo used with permission

These colorful shrimp can reach a length of 1.9 cm and often live on larger hosts.

A pygmy and common seahorse seahorse

A pygmy seahorse (left) and a Common seahorse seahorse (right). Photos used with permission.

Measuring two centimeters at most, the pygmy seahorse (left) is one of the smallest seahorse species in the world.

The coral triangle from Wikipedia. Used via CC-BY-SA-4.0

It is found exclusively in the coral triangle, a triangular region stretching from the Philippines and Malaysia in the east to Indonesia and Timor Leste in the south, and the Solomon Islands in the west. This pink seahorse typically resides in pink palm fan corals or other soft corals and seagrass beds which allow it to camouflage itself remarkably well.

The second image is of the common seahorse. Like all seahorses, the seahorse uses its tail as an anchor to bind itself to corals, plants, and other surfaces. He is probably most famous for his unusual method of reproductionin which the female produces eggs, which the male incubates through a pouch in his tail until parturition.

Fimbriated moray eel

Fimbriated moray eel. Photo used with permission.

The fimbriated moray eel can reach a length of 81 centimeters. There are over 200 different species of moray eels, most of which are toxic. Although these eels rarely attack humans, if threatened they have been known to attack and their bites contain dangerous toxins. Their razor sharp teeth can also cause severe bleeding and are sadly painful. Most attacks are believed to occur when divers unwittingly stick their hands into holes occupied by moray eels.


Cuttlefish. Photo used with permission.

Cuttlefish, or cuttlefish, are a cephalopod, a cousin of the better known squid and octopus, and are often hunted to be sold as seafood. They are considered one of the most intelligent invertebrates. According to National Geographic:

Cuttlefish have a large brain-to-body size ratio – among the largest of all invertebrates– which makes them incredibly smart. They can count and can remember what, where and when they last ate; a memory trait once considered unique to humans.

Some species of cuttlefish are listed as endangered. Currently, their biggest threats are ocean acidification – changes in ocean pH due to increased emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and ocean – and overfishing.

Christmas tree worm

Christmas tree worm. Photo used with permission.

Christmas tree worms are spiral-shaped worms named for their festive, conical appearance. They are usually around 3.8 centimeters long and can be found in many colors including red, orange, green and yellow. They use their colorful plumes to passive feeding and breathing. They are sedentary creatures as the worm burrows into rock to anchor itself amid fluctuating currents. They are very sensitive to the environment around them and, if they feel threatened, will quickly retract into their burrow.

Maritime Threats

According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, “more than half of the world’s marine species could be on the brink of extinction by 2100.” They add :

Rising temperatures increase the risk of irreversible loss of marine and coastal ecosystems. Today, widespread changes have been observed, including damage to coral reefs and mangroves that support ocean life, and the migration of species to higher latitudes and altitudes where the water may be cooler.

Most of the creatures featured above inhabit Indonesian reef ecosystems. About 25% of all marine life resides in the “rainforests of the sea” – coral reefs. These reefs are dense gardens teeming with life and biodiversity. They too play an essential role in maintaining marine ecosystems and protecting land against erosion.

Apart from their biological importance, they are also a major source of employment for coastal communities, a economic engineand a source of food and medicine.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), in 2016, 3 billion people depend on the oceans for their livelihoods and more than 350 million jobs are linked to the oceans in the world.

Indonesia has an area of ​​about 51,020 km2 of coral reefs, about 18% of the world total.

However, it is becoming clear that the magnificent creatures featured in this piece, as well as our coastal economies, are under threat as the climate crisis warms ocean waters and threatens coastal ecosystems. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has already experienced significant coral bleachinga phenomenon where brightly colored corals go dormant and turn ghostly white due to external pressures such as warming temperatures, pollutants or a change in water pH levels. A report published by Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in May 2022 shows that 91% of the Great Barrier Reef “exhibited some bleaching”.

Coral bleaching. Scott reef, April 2016. Photo via the Australian Institute of Marine Science. Free to use.

However some groups are trying to restore coral reefs, like this all-female coral conservation team in Gilli Air, Indonesia, it’s clear that without serious societal changes, the next generation may not be able to encounter the amazing creatures featured above .

Eco-tourism and diving

The photos have been collected by experienced dive masters – experts who have passed a number of courses and dive trials, approved by the international diving course managers, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) or Scuba Schools International (ISS).

Although experienced instructors know how to navigate marine ecosystems sustainably, recreational diving can both directly and indirectly harm marine life.

Direct damage takes place underwater, as inexperienced divers have been known to bump, kick, crush or disturb corals and marine life.

The increased development on the coasts of diving centers and other tourist leisure facilities, damage to corals due to the increased use of boats and gas pollution from motorboats also pose an indirect threat to the coasts. The increased use and development of the coastline also leads to greater amounts of litter and plastic, which inevitably end up in the ocean.

Some dive operators, scientists and governments hope to mitigate these risks by blocking off overused dive sites, allowing the area to recover and introduce permits.

There are also initiatives like the Green Palms Initiative and Project AWARE, two global underwater conservation movements. They have a number of campaigns tackling litter and plastic issues, threats to sharks and other marine predators, promoting sustainable diving and marine tourism, and funding coral regeneration projects.

Gabriel Grimsditch, Program Manager, Marine and Coastal Ecosystems Branch, United Nations Environment Programme, summarize the challenges implementation of sustainable coastal tourism.

Tourism can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is extremely important for the economy and can bring people closer to nature so that they can appreciate the wonders of the ocean more. On the other hand, if not done in a sustainable way, it can kill the very ecosystem that tourists have come to visit.

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