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Southeast Asia






Southeast Asia, with its complex and mass of tightly interlocking islands, straddles the world's greatest zone of coral reef biodiversity. Although reef development is restricted in a few areas, notably the Gulf of Thailand and the southern coastline of mainland China, for the most part coral reefs are well developed and numerous. Fringing reefs line the coasts of myriad islands, including many of the larger ones, and parts of the mainland. There are also extensive, though often poorly known barrier reefs, while in the deeper waters of the South China Sea and towards the east of the region there is a considerable number of oceanic atolls.

It has been suggested that biodiversity may have remained, or even accumulated, in this region at the same time that Pleistocene extinctions were occurring in other parts of the world. This is an area which maintained a relatively equitable climate for coral reef development right through the last glaciation, possibly providing a refuge for numerous species. At the same time the massive fluctuations in sea level may have isolated pockets of coral reef diversity, allowing evolution to follow different paths so that, when species reunited, they have diverged, further adding to their diversity. Whatever the causes, this region harbors more species in almost every group of coral reef organism than any other part of the world.

Unfortunately its reefs face considerable difficulties, with some eighty-two percent estimated to be threatened by human activities in the recent Reefs at Risk report.

Burgeoning human populations are over utilizing  the resources in many areas, while wholesale destruction of the forests on land, together with rapid urbanization, is leading to massive loads of sediments and pollution on many reefs. While scientists may have little information about these reefs, most are well known to fishermen , and even the most remote reefs are threatened by over fishing and, particularly, by destructive fishing practices. 

Thailand, Myanmar & Cambodia
Thailand is a large country lying in the center of mainland Southeast Asia and extending far north along the Malay Peninsula towards the Malaysian border. The coastline is clearly divided into those sections which border the Gulf of Thailand and a shorter coastline on the Andaman Sea. The Gulf of Thailand is a shallow semi-enclosed sea, generally less than sixty meters in depth. It is heavily sedimented, particularly in the north and west, but highly productive. The tidal systems are diurnal, while monsoonal weather exerts the predominant influence on reef development. In the northeast much of the coast is affected by river runoff and there are some large mangrove communities, but fringing reefs have developed  away from riverine inputs, and there are quite a number of islands with important fringing reef communities offshore. More reefs occur on the eastern shores of Thailand (the western shores of the Gulf). These are largely around the islands of Prachuab Kirikhan and more extensive ones around the western shores of the islands of Chumphon and on all sides of the islands near Surat Thani. In all areas the relatively harsh physical conditions have restricted reef diversity, and coral numbers in the Gulf of Thailand are far lower than in surrounding areas.

The coastline facing the Andaman Sea is somewhat different, and has the largest areas of mangroves in Thailand, as well as extensive coral reefs, particularly along the shores of the numerous offshore islands. The degree of reef development seems to be related to distance from shore and level of exposure.. Fringing communities are better generally developed on the eastern coasts of the islands

Pressures on much of Thailand's coastal zone are considerable. Sedimentation is a significant problem for reefs in many areas, but particularly on the mainland coasts. The Gulf of Thailand also has a major trawl fishery. Although this does not directly impact any true reefs, it is likely to have destroyed or degraded small coral communities which may have existed in the open waters of the gulf. Much over fishing occurs on many reefs, and there have been problems of destructive fishing practices, although this is believed to have declined. It has been estimated that over fifty percent of coastal mangrove forests have been destroyed, largely for conversion to shrimp ponds and for coastal development.

Tourism now exerts a considerable influence on reef communities and is probably the most significant reef use in many areas. Unfortunately much of this has been associated with negative impacts. Construction of roads and buildings has led to problems with siltation and pollution. Anchor damage, direct tourist damage and even collection of corals and shells may be having further impacts. It has been estimated that over forty percent of Thailand's reefs lie within marine national parks, and the Department of Fisheries has been running a coral reef management program since 1995 focused towards research, training and public education to further protection of reefs outside these areas. Efforts are continuing to establish mooring buoys at all popular dive locations.

Myanmar extends from a northern border with Bangladesh to Thailand in the south, and has a considerable coastline along the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. There is remarkably little information in the scientific literature describing the reef communities in Myanmar, but is seems likely that those on the nearshore island in the south of the country and around the islands north of the Adamans are extensive and diverse.  The Mergui Archipelago consists of 800 islands, most of which are uninhabited , and many remain forested. Reefs are best developed on the outermost islands, and are thought to be similar to those around the offshore islands of Thailand.

Myanmar has been a relatively closed country for a number of years, and coastal development has been slow, particularly away from the capital. While there is undoubtedly some utilization of reef resources by local people, the pressures are considered to be quite low and the reefs in the south of the country are noted for their significant numbers of large fish, including sharks. At least two marine protected areas have been declared, but there are concerns that the resident populations may have been mistreated or displaced for the establishment of these sites.

Cambodia has only a relatively short coastline facing the Gulf of Thailand, although there are several small islands in the adjacent waters. There are known to be coral communities on the mainland coast and some fringing reef structures around the islands. Diversity on the mainland reefs is lower than those around the islands, and the mainland reefs are dominated by massive encrusting corals.

Relevant Websites:
World Resources Institute report on Cambodia's coral reefs
World Resources Institute report on Thailand's coral reefs

Dive The World Thailand

Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei Darussalam
Malaysia is a large country split into two land areas: Peninsular Malaysia and east Malaysia. Peninsular Malaysia has a relatively high relief to its coastline, particularly in the south and west, and is dominated by low-lying land and mangroves or former mangrove areas. Offshore a number of small islands are important for reef development. East Malaysia also has a high relief , although in the west there is a generally wide coastal strip with extensive wetlands and mangrove development. Again, a number of offshore island groups are important for reef development, particularly around Sabah.

There is relatively little reef development along the mainland coast of Peninsular Malaysia, but reefs occur around all of the offshore islands. Conditions for reef development are generally poor in the Strait of Malacca, however there are small low diversity reefs on the mainland close to Port Dickson. There are also reported to be some minor mainland fringing communities on the east coast between Kuala Terengganu and Chukai.

Reef development is highly restricted off the coast of Sarawak, although there are some reefs around the offshore islands of Pulau Talang and Pulau Satar. The most extensive reef development in the country is in the waters around Sabah, which is the region with the highest diversity and optimal conditions for reef development. This is close to the global center for coral reef diversity. Around the southeast coast there are extensive fringing reefs and a small barrier reef. Offshore from the town  of Semporna lie a number of islands of volcanic origin with extensive reef developments. Just off the continental shelf lies Pulau Sipadan, a small coral cay with a surrounding reef of high coral cover and diversity. Further north, offshore reef development is restricted, but there are fringing reefs around the Turtle Islands. Off the north and west coasts, and particularly around the offshore islands, there are significant areas of fringing reefs.

Overall some 346 species of scleractinian coral have been identified in Malaysian waters. Marine fisheries are an important economic activity for Malaysia, with the majority of them commercial and focused towards non-reef species using trawl and purse seine. Over fishing on the coral reefs is not considered a threat, although there is considerable destructive fishing practices, notably using explosives, and particularly off the coast of Sabah where more than four blasts per hour have been recorded in several areas. Perhaps the most significant threats to reefs arise from onshore activities, notably the high degree of sedimentation from logging activities and pollution associated with the industry, agriculture and urban development. Tourism development has also had impacts through accommodation construction, and direct damage caused by anchors and divers. In an effort to further protect coral reefs, marine parks have been established by the Department of Fisheries in the offshore waters surrounding thirty-eight islands, with considerable restrictions, including on fishing, anchoring of boats, and disposal of sewage and solid waste. Although detailed management structures are not yet in place for the majority of these sites, their growing value for tourism is increasing interest in their protection.

Singapore's coral reefs have received considerable scientific attention. Singapore consists of one large and some fifty small islands off the southern coast of the Malay peninsula, separated from the mainland by the narrow Johor Strair. Fringing reef communities are found around many of the southern islands, despite the typically turbid waters, and some 197 species of hard coral have been identified in the country. There appears unfortunately to be a steady ongoing decline in coral cover on most reefs. The main island is highly developed and large areas of fringing reefs have been destroyed by land reclamation. Although the remaining reefs lie between one of the world's busiest ports and one of the world's busiest seaways, many reef communities remain. Sewage and industrial waste treatment is relatively good, although increasing sediment loads appear to be taking their toll.

Brunei Darussalam is another relatively small country located on the north coast of Borneo between Sarawak and Sabah. There are no fringing reefs on the mainland, but the development around Pelong Rocks and Pulau Punyit may be considered fringing reefs. The majority of coral growth occurs on sub-littoral patch reefs and coral communities offshore, and some 185 scleractinian corals from seventy-one genera have been recorded.

Relevant Websites:
Coral Cay Conservation Expeditions website on Malaysia's coral reefs
Reef Base: Malaysia
Tourism Penang coral reef website

World Resources Institute report on Malaysia's coral reefs

Indonesia is the world's largest coral reef nation, with over 50,000 square kilometers of reefs (18 percent of the world total), extending nearly 5,000 kilometers from east to west, and harboring over 17,000 islands (including rocks and sandbanks). It touches on the Indian and Pacific Oceans as well as many seas, including the Andaman, Java, South China, Sulawesi, Banda and Arafura Seas. This same country has a vast array of coral reefs, many poorly described  or completely unknown, while it completely straddles the region with the greatest reef biodiversity in the world.

Despite the vast area of the Indonesian Archipelago and the lack of detailed information about its reef communities, the majority of its coastal area is already heavily utilized, particularly in the west, and considerable areas are under increasing stress from human activities. Some 6,000 of Indonesia's islands are inhabitated, and marine and coastal resources generate twenty-five percent of the country's gross domestic product. Fisheries is a major activity, and it is estimated that sixty percent of protein consumption is derived from fisheries. Unfortunately over fishing is widespread and is almost continuous in all regions from Sulawesi westwards. In addition a number of destructive fishing practices, blast and cyanide fishing among them, are employed in all areas., including many remote reefs and atolls. Blast fishing, in particular, is having an extremely detrimental effect across the country.

Indonesia is the largest supplier of live food fish to the Asian markets with large vessels operating among the more remote reefs, and mostly using cyanide (although illegal since 1995).  Muro-ami fishing has significant impacts in a number of areas, including Kepulauan Seribu. This involves the use or large nets and large groups of fishers, often children, who swim with poles or rocks on ropes and smash the reef surface to frighten fish up into the nets. Collection of fish and corals for export in the ornamental and aquarium trade is considerable. Indonesia is the world's largest exporter of corals under the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  Reaching well over 1,000 tons of coral per year in the early 1990's and now exporting around 500 tons per year, Indonesia has provide approximately forty-one percent of all coral exports since 1985. These exports are relatively low on a unit-area basis because of the very large coral reef area in the country, but they may have localized impacts.

Coastal development causes considerable problems, particularly in the western half of the country. Extensive deforestation has greatly exacerbated the nature influences of freshwater and sediment discharge on reef growth and condition, and these impacts are continually expanding to new areas. Urban and industrial pollution is widespread and in 1998 it was reported that there was no sewage treatment plant in any major coastal city. Agriculture development is leading to increased inputs of nutrients and chemicals, and their effects are now widely apparent. Coral mining is also common, with corals being used for various purposes including building (houses, roads, foundations, sea walls and jetties), lime production (for mortar) and decorative use both within the country and for export.

Tourism is now important in many areas, and is itself responsible for a range of problems, particularly associated with the developments on small coral cays. Impacts include land reclamation, dredging of lagoons and mangrove clearance. Although there are many protected areas in Indonesia, they do not provide a good network for the vast area of reefs, nor do they reach the 300,000 kilometer goal set by the government in 2000. Many of the existing sites lack comprehensive management.

Sumatra and Java are two continental islands in the western end of Indonesia, both with numerous volcanoes. Surprisingly little is known about the development of reefs around Sumatra. Fringing reefs are considered well developed in the north around Aceh and around the islands immediately north of Sumatra. They are also likely to be widespread along much of the west coast of Sumatra facing the Indian Ocean and have actually been recorded at the Mentawai Islands. Likewise this region is believed to support some extensive barrier reef systems. Further barrier reefs along the west coast of Sumatra are recorded with a combined length of 660 kilometers, although these have been little studied. Reefs are thought to be poorly developed along the east Sumatra coast where these is significant riverine input and the coastline is dominated by large mangrove communities. Fringing reefs are widespread in the Riau Archipelago and ninety-five species of scleractinian coral have been recorded from Batam Island. Water conditions are highly turbid in this area however, and coral cover quickly diminishes with depth. Further south around Belitung Island, fringing reefs have significantly higher diversities, presumably associated with more suitable conditions for coral development -174 species of scleractinian coral have been recorded.

The fringing reefs around Java have received little attention despite their high accessibility. There are well developed fringing reefs surrounding the volcanic islands in the Sunda Strait, as well as around the Blambangan Peninsula and off the short east coast of Java. One of the best known reef complexes in the region is the Kepulauan Seribu patch reef chain, also known as the Thousand Islands. This is a group of almost 700 reefs lying in a chain just north of Jakarta Bay. Many have associated islands and most have shallow intertidal reef flats. The reef slopes are quite diverse and there appears to be an increase in diversity with distance from Java.

Reefs are widely developed around the Karimunjawa Archipelago north of Java, and there are reported to be extensive fringing communities around Bawean Island on its eastern side. Fringing reefs are also well developed along the south coast of Bali and have a deep spur and groove formation associated with the high exposure along this coast.

Kalimantan, or Indonesian Borneo, has a coastline that is low-lying and subjected to considerable riverine inputs. Between the river mouths, the shores are largely fringed by mudflats and there are extensive mangrove communities. Fringing reefs are absent from much of the Kalimantan coast but do occur away from major areas of river input. They are thought to be well developed on the offshore continental islands, and also off the large headlands such as Tanjung, Datu and T. Blimbing in the west and T. Sambar, T. Putih, T. Pengujan and T. Selatan in the south. In the east, extensive reefs are recorded for 140 kilometers between T. Setan and T. Pamerikan, and again around the Mankalihat Peninsula, while there is also an extensive fringing reef to the north of the Berau Delta. Offshore from the east lies Indonesia's longest continuous barrier reef system, the Sunda Barrier Reef, some 630 kilometers long, on the edge of the Sunda Shelf. Despite its size and potential economic, social and biological importance, this reef is largely undescribed.

Sulawesi and the Nusa Tengarra are in a region that is sometimes referred to as Wallacea, and encompasses the islands of Sulawesi and the Nusa Tenggara Islands. Conditions in this region are ideal for reef development and there are extensive fringing reefs along the shores of most islands, including some near continuous stretches running for hundreds of kilometers along the shoreline of Sulawesi. Further offshore a large number of barrier reef systems have been described with a total length of 2,084 kilometers. Among the best known in the Spermonde Barrier Reef -some 224 scleractinian corals have been described in this system. South of Peleng Island on the Banggai Platform there is another shelf-edge barrier reef system, the Banggai Barrier Reef. This is of particular interest because of the development of faros, circular atoll-like structures otherwise largely associated with the Maldives. The Togian Islands, located in the mouth of Tomini Bay in northern Sulawesi, lie in very deep water and boast a number of interesting reef formations including fringing, barrier and atoll reefs. The reefs of Tomini Bay are some of the most biodiverse in the world, with an estimated seventy-seven species of Acorpora alone.

There is very little detailed information describing the reef communities of the Nusa Tenggara Islands, but fringing reefs are again widespread. North of these islands well developed barrier reefs are reported to occur northwest of Sumbawa and north of Flores. At the southern end of the Makassar Strait and in the Flores Sea there are a number of atolls, including the largest in the country: Kalukalukuang, Sabalana and Taka Bone Rate, each over sixty kilometers in length with complex atoll rims formed from individual patch reef structures separated by narrow and deep channels. In the western end of the Band Sea there are, additionally, many smaller atolls.

The Oluccas and Irian Jaya are in a region where very deep waters separate the islands (islands only tens of kilometers apart might be separated by depth of over 1,000 meters). Along the southeast coast of Irian Jaya wide areas are unsuitable for reef development: this coastline includes some of the largest mangrove forests in the world. There are reported to be fringing reefs along much of the higher coastal areas to the west, and along the along the rest of the north coast there are fringing reefs on all islands in Cendrawasih Bay. Further east, fringing reefs are believed to follow a large proportion of the coastline between Sarmi and the border with Papua New Guinea.

Relevant Websites:
Global Coral Reef Alliance Indonesia
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (E-Law): Economic Analysis of Indonesian Coral Reefs
Nature Conservancy's Rescue The Reef article on Indonesia's coral reefs
Reef Base: Sumatra and Java

Sea Horse Tales web article "The Rape of Indonesia's Reefs"

World Resources Institute report on Indonesia's coral reefs

The Philippines are a large and complex mass of over 7,000 islands making up the north of insular Southeast Asia. Together with Indonesia to the south, the Philippines lie in the center of global coral reef biodiversity and have a vast area of reefs.

Fringing reefs are Batanes and Babuyan Islands, although the live coral cover on the former is reported as low (less than twenty-five percent). Around Luzon itself reefs are by no means continuous. There are no recorded reefs in the far northwest, and the first to appear on this coast are fringing structures around the Hundred Islands, an area in the Lingayen Gulf. The waters here are turbid and much of the reef area is reported to have been destroyed by blast fishing. At the mouth of the Lingayen Gulf there are wide fringing reefs around Bolinao and the nearby islands, with discontinuous fringing reefs running south to Manila Bay. The explosion of Mount Pinatubo, with its massive ashfall and mud flows, caused a steep decline in live coral cover from sixty-seventy percent down to ten-twenty percent on the nearest fringing reefs. There is little information about the development of reefs along the east coast of Luzon, although fringing reefs are described at the Polillo Islands and in the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park. There is little published information describing the reefs around the southern coastline of Luzon, and little for Mindoro and Marinduque, but there are discontinuous fringing reefs in many areas, notably around Pureto Galera in Mindoro. Over two hundred kilometers west of Luzon is the atoll-like formation of Scarborough Reef.

Fringing reefs are widespread along much of the coastline of the Visayas, although broken up by areas of soft sediments, particularly close to river mouths. Live cover on some parts of these reefs can exceed fifty percent, and fish diversity is also high, particularly on protected or less heavily fished reefs such as Sumilon and Apo Islands south of Cebu and Negros. Reefs around Mindanao are poorly known, although fringing structures are widespread, and diversity is reportedly high on reefs around Arangasa Island on the east coast.

The Sulu Archipelago has not been described in detail, but includes fringing and barrier reef systems. To the northwest there are two major atoll systems in the Sulu Sea, the Cagayan Islands and Tubbataha, the latter being a structure composed of two atolls. Further west, Palawan has some of the best developed reefs in the country, with fringing and patch reefs along most of the coast and live coral cover reaching between fifty and ninety percent in some places. A number of banks and shoals off the west coast of Palawan are thought to be a part of a long, sub-surface barrier reef system.

Many of the reefs in the Philippines are severely impacted by human activities. Dense populations utilize fish communities in almost all areas. The vast majority of this fishing is small-scale, and in spite of local government controls, the fish stocks, including reef fish, as well as small pelagics, are considered to be biologically and economically over fished in almost all areas other than eastern Luzon, Palawan and the southern Sulu Sea.

Destructive fishing is also widespread, and although blast fishing is illegal, it continues in nearly every part of the Philippines and causes significant reef loss in many areas. Prior to 1989 blasts were heard a rate of ten per hour in a two-three kilometer listening radius around Bolinao. Following the introduction of stringent punishments for this illegal activity, these rates have dropped, and there is now little or no blast fishing, but only in this one area. Cyanide fishing is also common for the live fish trade, and there is significant illegal fishery by vessels from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea and Japan.  The use of cyanide by Philippine fishermen is prohibited , and this is monitored for the export fishery, so the majority of legal live fish exports are probably no longer caught in this manner. Live fish are also caught in a few areas to supply a fairly large aquarium trade export, mainly to the United States. Muro-Ami fishing is another method which has been used in the Philippines. Although now illegal it almost certainly continues, while a new method, known as  paaling, utilizes divers (typically more than one hundred at a time) with hoses aiming compressed air at the reef to force the fish into the nets. This may be widespread off the coast of Palawan and is indiscriminate and destructive to the reef.

Sedimentation is another major threat to coral reefs in the Philippines, and loads are high in many rivers as a result of deforestation  and poor agricultural practices. Some sixty to seventy-five percent of the original mangrove cover has been removed, reducing the role these can play as nursery areas or sediment traps. Urban and industrial effluent is a particular problem in some locations, such as Manila Bay. At Toledo City, Cedu, an estimated 100,000 tones of mine tailings are discharged into the sea daily, with massive losses of fish and coral cover along seven kilometers of coastline. Similar problems of discharge combined with poor flushing have affected Calancan Bay in Marinduque. Tourism is a growing industry in the Philippines, although diving is not as significant as in other parts of the region, possibly in part related to the degraded nature of so many reefs.

A considerable number of marine protected areas have been declared in the Philippines but few have ever been effectively enforced. Some of the larger sites have failed to win the support of local communities, while in others, the local people have been unable to control the impacts of outsiders. There are a few exceptions to this however, and the two small reserves of Apo Island and Sumilon are globally recognized as examples of good community-based management.

Relevant Websites:
Reef Base: Philippines
World Resources Institute article on Philippines'coral reefs

Spratly Islands, Tung-Sha Reefs & Paracel Islands
The Spratly Islands, lying over two hundred kilometers west of the Philippines and northwest of Sabah, Malaysia, are a group of perhaps thirty small islands, sand cays and rocks, with associated patch and atoll reefs covering over 1,150 kilometers.  Although there has only been limited studies, it is likely that they harbor extremely important biodiversity. It has also been suggested that these reefs play a critical role in the maintenance of regional biodiversity, acting as a source stock and exporting fish larvae to the heavily fished reefs of surrounding countries.

Because of the military situation in these islands (they are claimed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines) the reefs are not heavily fished. Overall the reefs in the area are in relatively good condition, although the risks of conflict and potential impacts on the environment remain great.

The Tung-Sha (Dongsha Qundao) Reefs are located in the northern reaches of the South China Sea, centered around a large, submerged atoll with a single island. Diversity is not high, although seventy species of coral have been recorded.

The Paracel Islands are a group of atolls, atoll complexes and platform reefs, together with some thirty-one small islands in the South China Sea. A considerable number of corals and other groups has been observed, and hermatypic coral cover was reported to be high, particularly on the northeastern reef flats, but low on the reef slopes.

Relevant Websites:

Vietnam & China
Vietnam has an extensive coastline encompassing a great latitudinal range. Coral reefs have not been described in detail for any locations, although there are known to be reefs or coral communities around most of the offshore islands in the southwest, and on the Con Dao Islands. On the east coast, fringing reefs and coral communities have developed along the mainland, and more particularly the offshore islands around Nha Trang. The coastline along much of the Gulf of Tonkin is dominated by soft sediments and there are few reports of reef development. However, there are fringing reef communities further offshore in Ha Long Bay and the Tonkin Gulf.

Biodiversity is greatest in the south-central areas where some 277 coral species have been recorded, while in the north only 165 species are recorded. Fishing pressure off the southwest coast is thought to be very high, with some 7,000 fishing vessels operating from nearby and probably coming in from other regions. Deforestation has been a major problem in Vietnam, largely linked to the use of defoliants during the Vietnam war. This has caused massive erosion and heavy sedimentation offshore and may be threatening reefs around Cat Ba Island. A small number of marine protected areas have been established, two of which include coral reefs.

China has substantial coastline facing the South China Sea but there is little or no true reef development along any of it. Hainan, a large island in the middle of the Gulf of Tongking, was once reported as having substantial fringing reef communities along parts of its southern coast but these have all but disappeared. Significant fringing reef structures around Shalao on the east coast and Xincun Bay in the southeast were visited in 1990 and found to be largely made up of dead coral rubble with only occasional live corals. The most extensive and diverse fringing reef communities were found in the area around Sanya. Similarly important and diverse communities have also been reported off the islets in Yalong Bay just southeast of Sanya. The principal threats include coral mining for construction, blast fishing and the collection of corals for handicrafts. There are now reported to be efforts to protect and manage these reefs.

A number of coral communities have been described off the coastline of Hong Kong. These do not form true reefs, and likedly are mirrored by similar communities in other areas along this coast. They are all undoubtedly threatened by pollution, sedimentation and over fishing on this heavily populated coastline.

Relevant Websites:
Reef Base: China
Reef Base: Vietnam

Taiwan & Japan
Taiwan lies relatively far to the north. Nonetheless, it has a number of well developed coral reef communities at the northern edge of the China Sea, particularly along its southern edge, and around offshore islands. An estimated 300 hard coral species have been recorded at this island, along with 1,200 fish species.+

Some of the best known and best developed reefs of the mainland are those of the Hengchun Peninsula and the Kenting National Park. These are fringing communities, although they form a discontinuous structure broken up by sand channels. There are thought to be considerable pressures on the reefs in Taiwan, particularly from fishing, coastal development and tourism. Dynamite fishing, trawling and sedimentation are reported to have degraded the reefs around the Pen-Hu Islands, while destructive fishing practices and tourism are believed to have impacted reefs on the southeast mainland.

Japan's islands stretch from the edge of the tropics to the mid-temperate regions, and in so doing provide one of the clearest examples of the latitudinal limits to coral growth and reef development. The presence of relatively warm waters has enabled hermatypic corals to reach quite high latitudes in Japan and there are records of around forty coral genera at the larger islands in the north, some reaching into temperate latitudes. In these areas, however, corals are incapable of forming reefs, and it is generally accepted that the northern limit for true reef development in the Nansei chain is the Tokara Islands at around 30 degrees north. The most extensive fringing reef structures are those around the Ryukyu Islands and further south. The remote islands to the east of the country are warmed by the Kuroshio Current and also show a high diversity of coral species.

The Ryukyu and Yaeyama Islands have the highest levels of diversity. Altogether approximately 400 coral species have been recorded from Japan, the majority of which are found in the waters around Iriomote and Ishigaki. Unfortunately costal development, forest clearance and poor agricultural practices have led to the demise of many of Japan's most important fringing reefs, and a large number of them, particularly around the bigger islands such as Okinawa, can now be regarded as totally destroyed. Diving and snorkelling are very popular , and there is some damage caused by reef walking. Coastal development, in part fueled by tourism, has led to direct destruction, including land reclamation for the major airport in Okinawa, and a new airport in Ishigaki, both built directly on coral reefs. While there are many protected areas, estimated to cover nearly thirteen percent of the total reef area of the country, it is not clear to what degree these areas provide protection.

Relevant Websites:
Reef Base: Japan
Reef Base: Taiwan

World Resources Institute article on Japan's coral reefs

World Atlas of Coral Reefs

Extracted and adapted from The World Atlas of Coral Reefs, by Mark D. Spalding, Corinna Ravilious and Edmund P. Green, published by the University of California Press . For more complete and in-depth coverage of the topics presented in this webpage, I recommend highly purchasing a copy of this beautifully illustrated book. Just click on the University of California Press link above to do so.