Saving the Coral Triangle

The Coral Triangle is considered as the global center of tropical marine diversity, supporting the highest number of coral species and fish. Photo credit: ADB.

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Regional cooperation is vital for the protection and preservation of the world’s marine ecosystems.


Often compared to the Amazon, the Coral Triangle is one of the world’s richest areas of marine life. It stretches across three countries in Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines) and three countries in the Pacific (Papua New Guinea (PNG), Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste). The area has 76% of all known coral species in the world and is home to 37% of the world’s total coral reef fish.

Unfortunately, unsustainable and destructive methods of fishing, mangrove deforestation, land reclamation, unregulated tourism, pollution, and climate change are threatening this vital ecosystem.

Healthy oceans are critical to Asia Pacific’s continued economic development. The contribution of oceans-based and related activities to the gross domestic product (GDP) reaches 13% in Indonesia. Millions of people across the region rely on marine activities for their livelihoods. Seventy-five percent of global fisheries production is from Asia and 34 million people are engaged in capture fisheries in the Asia–Pacific region. The export value of capture fishery production of Southeast Asia alone was $19.5 billion in 2015.

To protect and sustain this valuable resource and the economic benefits it brings to many people in the region, the six countries launched the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security in 2007.

Project Snapshot

  • 2011–2018 : Start and end of project

  • $242.4 million : total assistance package


According to the 2014 report, Regional State of the Coral Triangle, overfishing and destructive fishing are the most important threats to coral reefs in the Coral Triangle. In the Philippines alone, income losses from overfishing are estimated at $1.2 billion over the past 20 years.

The other major stressors are excessive nutrient inputs and pollution, land and coastal development, and exploitation of threatened species.

Climate change impacts, including warmer surface temperatures, rising seas, and ocean acidification, will have profound effects on coral reefs and mangroves. Climate change is projected to cause the death of 70%–90% of coral reefs by 2052 because of temperature increases and sea level rise. Due to ocean acidification, by around 2080, any remaining reefs will be dissolving faster than they can build themselves up. Losses linked to climate change across the Coral Triangle region are estimated at $38.3 billion over the past 20 years.


The Coral Triangle region is located along the equator at the confluence of the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans. The boundaries of this region cover all or part of the exclusive economic zones of the six countries.

More than 120 million people depend on the marine and coastal resources of the Coral Triangle for their food and livelihood. The 2014 report estimates the combined contribution of ecosystem functions, goods, and services to the gross domestic product at $1.2 trillion, with capture fisheries valued at $9.9 billion, representing 10.5% of the global market.


The Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) was launched in 2007 as a six-country program of regional cooperation to protect economic and environmental assets. It has received a political endorsement from declarations of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

All six cooperating governments have taken important steps toward addressing threats to the Coral Triangle through the collaborative development of a regional plan of action and the preparation of national plans of action to guide the country and local-level implementation.

In 2009, heads of state from the six governments adopted the regional plan of action at the CTI Summit in Manado, Indonesia. The plan provides a framework to address the growing threats to the Coral Triangle region, establishes important overarching commitments for strengthening policies and institutions, and sets goals and targets for the following:

  • designation and management of priority seascapes,
  • application of an “ecosystem approach” to the management of fisheries and marine resources,
  • establishment and management of marine protected areas,
  • implementation of climate change adaptation measures, and
  • protection of threatened marine species.

Between 2011–2018, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) supported the CTI on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security, with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as the lead agency. Founding partners of the program were the governments of Australia and the United States, and the environmental nongovernment organizations World Wide Fund for Nature, Nature Conservancy, and Conservation International. Resources from other sources and partners were also mobilized for the program.

The program involves the private sector through an annual CTI Regional Business Forum to engage business and industry leaders in developing innovative solutions that are profitable and sustainable.

ADB was fully involved in providing technical and financial support to the CTI, with an assistance package of $242.4 million, including two regional technical assistance and two national projects. ADB assistance covered all six countries in the Coral Triangle and two Pacific countries at the border of the Coral Triangle region—Fiji and Vanuatu.

In Southeast Asia, the projects focused on supporting the implementation of the regional plan of action and the national plans of action to clarify goals and approaches that embody the CTI. In the five Pacific countries, the project improved food security by moving from unsustainable exploitation of resources to a model of integrated coastal management based on strong community participation.


Outputs and outcomes

In Southeast Asia, the expected impact was increased resilience of coastal and marine ecosystems and human communities in all three countries. The outcome was improved management of coastal and marine resources established in the Sulu–Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion Priority Seascape within the Coral Triangle. The outputs were: (i) policy and institutional frameworks for sustainable coastal and marine resources management improved; (ii) ecosystem-based approach to coastal and marine resources management pilot-tested; and (iii) effective project management established by ADB and the three Southeast Asian governments.

The Pacific project had four main outputs: (i) capabilities of national and local institutions strengthened for sustainable coastal and marine resource management, (ii) coastal communities experienced in applying best practices in ecosystem-based management and climate change adaptation, (iii) resilience of coastal ecosystems to climate change enhanced, and (iv) effective program management established by ADB and the participating governments.


Significant contributions were made in facilitating information exchange, building institutional capacity, and strengthening regional policy dialogue.

The key achievements of the Coral Triangle-Southeast Asia Project were the following:

  • 5,241 participants (45% women) from the government, academe, and development agencies were trained on seascape, marine protected areas, ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management, climate change adaptation, and improving the status of threatened species.
  • Sustainable livelihood and microenterprise models benefitted 82 households out of the targeted 100 in Sabah (Malaysia), and this is expected to steadily increase beyond project completion. Out of the 82 household beneficiaries, 33 households or 40% were women, exceeding the target by 15% or 15 households.
  • Over 41 knowledge products produced were utilized as training materials and disseminated to project stakeholders to increase awareness of the Coral Triangle Initiative and technical assistance visibility. These include the State of Coral Triangle reports, books, manuals, brochures, and posters.
  • Increase in management effectiveness scores in three marine protected areas, measured through the GEF biodiversity tracking tools. Management effectiveness scores increased by 21%, 31%, and 37% during project implementation against the target of 5%
  • Ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management plans were prepared in five production seascapes.

Notable accomplishments under the Coral Triangle-Pacific Project were the following:

  • Integrated Coastal Resource Management (ICRM) and Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management (EBFM) Strategic Plan were prepared in Papua New Guinea.
  • ICRM plans for Ra Province and Tikini in Fiji were approved.
  • Multi-stakeholder ICRM Committees were formed (e.g., for Ra Province, Fiji)
  • Marine protected areas and EBFM plans were developed for North Isabel, Solomon Islands.
  • Marine protected areas were established and management plans approved in Timor-Leste.
  • Skills upgrading were conducted for about 1,000 trainees.
  • Biodiversity conservation plans were completed for Kimbe Bay in Papua New Guinea and Isabel and Malaita provinces, Solomon Islands.

At the regional level, support was provided to enable the establishment of the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security (CTI-CFF) Regional Secretariat, including significant inputs in the Financial Resource Working Group and funding mobilization and business development.


International collaboration and coordination are key to managing the CTI. Protecting the coral reefs and ecosystem are not just a regional but also a global concern.

The threats to the Coral Triangle are wide and varied, thus, the solutions must also be wide and varied. The partners of the initiative include development and nongovernment organizations that provide technical and scientific expertise; funding for priority conservation and sustainability projects and activities at the regional, national and community level; and communications support to increase public awareness.

Southeast Asia

The scope and geographical coverage of the projects in Southeast Asia were wide with numerous stakeholders and partner institutions involved. More than 100 community-based activities were implemented, and various experts engaged. Considering these factors, the original project implementation period could have been extended. Furthermore, some of the identified project sites were inaccessible and the regional secretariat had security issues, which constrained the timely implementation of activities, regular monitoring, and supervision. These factors should be considered in future project designs.


The Pacific project underwent a major change in project management arrangements, causing delays in implementation. Local non-profit organizations (NGOs) were engaged as implementing partners. Because most NGOs maintain a long-term presence in countries where they operate, their involvement can ensure continuity of project outcomes and promote sustainability. The project also showed that coral reefs that have been damaged or subject to excessive pressure, and their associated fish populations, are highly resilient, and have the potential for quick recovery once effective management regimes are restored. In order to achieve intended project results, collaboration and coordination between various levels within government hierarchies—national, provincial, district, local, and ward—need to be more consistent.

Recommendations and Next Steps

ADB’s projects in Coral Triangle countries resulted in the following recommendations:

  • adoption of policy papers and study reports produced in coastal resources management plans;
  • dissemination and use of knowledge products; and
  • continued institutional, personnel, and budgetary support to national coordinating committees to implement activities and attain the targets of the regional and national plans of action by the governments.

Future initiatives could also aim at strengthening institutions’ capacities for more effective management of their globally important coastal and marine resources; building communities’ greater resiliency to climate change impacts and improving food security; recognizing the important role of women in contributing to coastal-based livelihood activities, and identifying opportunities for regional cooperation.

All six CTI-member countries have reviewed the outcomes of the Regional Plan of Action that was first endorsed in 2009. They have renewed their commitment to scale up through the preparation of an updated Regional Plan of Action, which will focus on issues that have emerged over the last 10 years, such as reduction land-based pollution on coastal ecosystems (including marine plastics and debris), responsible and sustainable development of marine and coastal natural resources, and emphasis on innovative and context-specific approaches to rationalize and deepen efforts in marine protected areas and seascapes.


Asian Development Bank (ADB). 2018. Coastal and Marine Resources Management in the Coral Triangle—Southeast Asia Completion Report. Manila.

ADB. 2016. The Coral Triangle: An Ecosystem under Threat. Multimedia Feature. 25 April.

ADB. 2014. Regional State of the Coral Triangle—Coral Triangle Marine Resources: Their Status, Economies, and Management. Manila.

ADB. 2010. Coral Triangle Initiative brochure. Manila.

ADB. Forthcoming. Strengthening Coastal and Marine Resources Management in the Coral Triangle of the Pacific Completion Report. Manila.

ADB Knowledge Events. Ocean Health: Actions from Source to Sea. ADB Seminar Series at the 52nd ADB Annual Meeting in Nadi. Fiji. 2 May 2019.

B.D. Eyre, et al. 2018. Coral Reefs Will Transition to Net Dissolving Before End of Century. Science, 359(6378), pp.908-911.

CTI-CFF. 2019. Renewal of Regional Plan of Action. Indonesia. Accessed at

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2018. Global Warming of 1.5 °C. Accessed at

Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA). 2015. Workshop Report: Blue Economy Development. East Asian Seas Congress 2015.

Anna Oposa
Ocean Health Partnerships Specialist, Asian Development Bank and Executive Director, Save Philippine Seas

Anna Oposa is the executive director of Save Philippine Seas, a movement to protect the Philippines' coastal and marine resources by mobilizing seatizen-led initiatives toward collective action and behavior change. She is currently a consultant working on ocean health with the Environment Thematic Group at the Asian Development Bank and has also worked on youth-related projects at the bank.

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