Monday, September 1, 2008
Coral Reefs In Peril
For all of their natural beauty and rich biological diversity, the Earth's coral reefs face an uncertain future
For a photographer, then, the mission becomes to find those reefs that are still healthy. Doubilet recently has worked in the Raja Ampat Islands off the northwestern tip of Indonesia’s West Papua Province. A 2002 survey by the Nature Conservancy and its partners confirmed that 537 species of corals live there, representing 75 percent of all known species. Overall, in Indonesia, more than 480 species of hard corals are on record, making it the center of marine biodiversity. Many of the reefs in eastern Indonesia haven’t been surveyed yet, so the actual extent of its biological richness is unknown.
For Eric Cheng, the editor and publisher of the underwater photography website Wetpixel.com, the damage done to many of the world’s great reefs has forced him to travel farther to see healthy ones. He spends much of his time in Indonesia as well.
“There are these incredibly dense and lush coral reefs with so much biodiversity that a lot of divers have started going there,” says Cheng, who started shooting underwater in 2001. “I feel like I was kind of robbed because when I started, the damage had already been done. I sense the urgency from my peers in terms of what’s going on, that if we don’t capture this stuff now, it really will be too late.”
What is known, though, is that billions of dollars and millions of jobs are generated by coral reefs in more than 100 countries. They provide food for people who live near them, especially on small islands, and also act as natural barriers, protecting coastal communities and shorelines from erosion and destruction caused by storms and waves. According to a United Nations estimate, the total economic value of coral reefs ranges from $100,000 to $600,000 per square kilometer per year.
Their sheer natural beauty makes them a strong tourism draw. Photographically, these bright and exotic gems make for incredibly colorful and dramatic images that show a place few ever get to experience live. For photographers who make a living getting up close and personal with the creatures floating in and around these magical seascapes, the experience is powerful.
Budd Riker has been diving and taking pictures for 30 years. The Philippines, Sipadan (an island off of Malaysia) and the Caribbean are some of his favorite spots. They’re also where he has witnessed firsthand the decline of the reefs. He says that efforts to preserve them are crucial because losing such a valuable natural resource is unimaginable to him.
“While it can be a frantic place with all of the marine life, it’s also a very calming place,” says Riker. “That in a square yard of turf there are literally hundreds of different things you can see is just so amazing. I do landscape photography, too, but there’s just nowhere else that you can take pictures like that in this vertical floating position. It’s just beautiful.”
For more information about the International Year of the Reef 2008, visit www.iyor.org.
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