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At The Coral Triangle: Visiting North Sumatra's Underwater Reefs

Wave Tribe

It’s autumn season in California but right where I am now, the seasons fall into dry and monsoon climates.

Published by Wave Tribe

I’m in Northern Sumatra, at the tail end of their dry season. I am checking out the island’s postcard-perfect surf beaches. So far, they are awesome. The waters are warm and crystal clear and I am pleased to report that there are plenty of rights and lefts as well as beach and reef breaks to play with.

I’ll be writing about the surfing conditions here in Indonesia in a future article but for this week, I wanted to write and highlight the natural beauty and fragility of this wonderful place.

The Coral Triangle
Widespread Coral Bleaching
Rising Water Levels
The Threat is Real
Eco Surfing

The Coral Triangle

If you’re not familiar with the place, the island of Northern Sumatra is located in Indonesia. The waters of Indonesia have a very rich biodiversity since it is part of the Coral Triangle. The Triangle is a marine area that Indonesia shares with Malaysia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, and Solomon Islands.

There are more than 2000 species of fish found here. This diversity is made possible because of the nearly 600 different species of reef-building corals which provide food and habitat for them. This in turn has made the Triangle an important resource for the 120 million people living in the marine area because they rely on corals for food, income, and protection from storms.

Unfortunately though, like every coral reef elsewhere, it’s being threatened by the effects of human-driven climate change.

Widespread Coral Bleaching

Climate change is causing the temperatures of our oceans to rise and too much heat is not good for corals. In fact, just an increase of 2 degrees Fahrenheit above average can cause corals to bleach.

The reefs here in Indonesia have been described as psychedelic by travel writers because of their stunning variety of color. This is because of the zooxanthellae, a microscopic algae that has a symbiotic relationship with the coral. But when the marine environment starts to get too hot or too acidic, the coral becomes stressed and expels the algae. Without the algae, the coral loses its colors and turns white. This is why it’s called a coral bleach.

If the water continues to be hot, the coral won’t let the zooxanthellae back in. Without their symbiotic relationship, the coral dies.

According to the World Bank, Indonesia, with its coastline of some 35,420 miles, holds about 8 percent of the world’s coral reefs. The Coral Triangle region covers about 25 percent of the coral reefs. And these are all at risk because of the massive coral bleachings being caused by climate change.

Once these corals die, reefs will have difficulty coming back. Whatever is left will struggle to reproduce and will not be able to replenish the area. An entire reef ecosystem on which nations and wildlife depend on for food will be gone. In fact, scientists are saying that if there are no steps undertaken to stop the destruction, Indonesia’s reefs will disappear in just a few decades.

But coral bleaching is not the only problem that they are facing.

Rising Water Levels

In an archipelagic nation like Indonesia, Northern Sumatra is just one island out of its 17,000 islands. But like every single one of them, rising sea levels threaten to erode their coastlines.

Erosion along the coasts is a normal phenomenon. It’s how coastlines are formed over time. The land is rearranged or displaced due to the combined effects of waves, tides, currents, and winds.

Normally, the effects of coastal erosion are countered by the phenomenon called accretion. Accretion occurs when sediments eroded from other areas are deposited on the coast, replacing the eroded layer. But fast rising water levels are making it difficult for accretion to occur in these islands.

In fact, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) had noted that sea levels in Indonesia are increasing by 1-8mm per year so much so that Jakarta, the country’s capital, is already in danger of sinking. This prompted the government to transfer the capital to Borneo which is another critically important biodiversity area.

And now with the latest international report warning of widespread ice sheet melting in the immediate future, this can mean that more and more coastal islands will be swallowed by the rising sea.

Whether it is through ditching the use of single-use plastics or getting more people aware and involved in carbon footprint reduction, we need to step up so that we—and the next generation—will still have a green future.

— Derek Dodds, Wave Tribe Founder

The Threat is Real

For people living in coastal communities, this threat is real. Human-accelerated climate change is destroying their livelihood and their environment.

In America, we have already been experiencing the damage it has done to our coastlines. But the stakes here in the archipelago are higher. Given the size of these islands, it’ll be a quick and easy thing for the seas to rise up and swallow their homes.

At times like these, I strongly feel that we should exert more effort towards pressuring governments and institutions to adopt eco-friendly policies. Likewise, we should also scale up our own personal efforts to cut down our carbon footprints.

Whether it is through ditching the use of single-use plastics or getting more people aware and involved in carbon footprint reduction, we need to step up so that we—and the next generation—will still have a green future.

Eco-Surfing

Which is why here at Wave Tribe, we are more determined than ever to provide an alternative for people who wish to stop using toxic surfing products and gear. The oceans can no longer take in the amount of plastic we have dumped into its waters and we’ve really gone long past the threshold of the amount of carbon emission in the atmosphere.

I think that as a surfer, it’s our moral responsibility to surf without harming the environment. That’s why we continue to produce sustainable surfboard hemp bags, recycled plastic board leashes, and organic board waxes.

When my sojourn here in Indonesia is over, not only will I have awesome memories of fantastic waves but I’ll also gain an even more firm determination to do all that I can do to address the issue of human-accelerated climate change. There is still so much to do and a surfer’s work, in this time and age, is no longer limited to riding the best waves all over the world. It’s also to become an advocate for the ocean and its denizens.

It might be a tough job, but we all have to do it.


Other Wave Tribe Reads


How to Make your Surfing Travel Plans Eco-Friendly
Plastic Kills: The Deadly Six that’s Wiping Out Marine Wildlife
Can Our Beaches Survive Climate Change

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