The assessments of 50 contributing authors focusing on coral reefs and related coastal ecosystems, and dependent communities in 9 countries in South Asia and the central and western Indian Ocean.
Coastal ecosystems in tropical regions are rich in biodiversity and highly productive. They form the basis for
the marine food web that ultimately results in fish catches that support the coastal human population. Coral reefs together with sea grass beds and mangrove forests are some of the most productive ecosystems in the Indian Ocean Region. The productivity of these systems is staggering, often yearly production figures in the range of 20 tones of fish per km2 have been found. However, if the environment is abused the productivity is likely to drop dramatically.
Unfortunately decreasing productivity of coastal waters is now the norm throughout much of the Indian Ocean. The catch per effort is steadily going down affecting the livelihoods of coastal communities. The reasons for the decreasing productivity can be attributed both to local and regional/global phenomena. The coastal zones over most of the planet are becoming overpopulated – often the population density is in the range of several thousand people per km2 – also in rural areas. As a consequence, during the past decades the coastal zone has become urbanized in many countries surrounding the Indian Ocean. As a result pollution, sedimentation, and erosion are increasing problems along most populated coasts. In addition the fishing has long ago exceeded the carrying capacity of the coastal waters, and fishermen use
more effective and destructive techniques now than ever before.
Vulnerability in the coastal zone has increased – consider e.g. the effects of the tsunami in December 2004.
And the environmental situation has become even more strained due to global change. The temperature increase of the atmosphere as a result of the greenhouse effect is increasing the water temperatures to lethal levels for corals and bleaching – the sign of dying coral reefs – now occurs almost every year in the Indian Ocean.
Since 1999, Sida, through its research department, SAREC, has supported the CORDIO program. CORDIO was originally a research program to assess the background and consequences of the 1998 El Niño and of other local phenomena which resulted in the degradation of the coral reefs of the Indian Ocean countries. The program which is driven by local scientists in 11 countries of the Indian Ocean has now evolved into a comprehensive program in areas such as ecological monitoring, management and policy advice, targeted research on different alternative livelihoods, education and awarenessbuilding, and networking and communication. Hence the research program has become an integrated part of a larger management-oriented program. This program aims to provide useful information to managers, as well as the public and local stakeholders. In addition the program tries to develop sustainable income generating activities to communities affected by the decreasing productivity of the coastal zone.
It is my hope that the activities conducted so far within the CORDIO program will continue to produce tangible on-the-ground benefits to coral reefs and the people who depend on them in the Indian Ocean region. CORDIO’s activities contribute directly to resolving several areas of global concern such as food security, poverty alleviation, and particularly the impacts of global climate change and conservation of biodiversity – all necessary components of a sustainable future.