Globally coral reefs are being exposed to an extensive list of climate and anthropogenic related stressors, which is causing a considerable decline in the diversity and abundance of many reef species. Situated in the Coral Triangle, the Wakatobi region of Indonesia is home to rich coral reef ecosystems, and is no exception to this rule; however, the losses and impacts reported from this area are not as significant as some of those documented in other locations such as the Caribbean. Consequently, there is urgent need to not only understand the implications of the changes recorded in the Wakatobi, but also why the reef environments here appear more resilient than similar environments elsewhere. Population ecology is the study of population compositions and structures, together with the processes driving them. These types of assessments have huge conservation potential, allowing ecologists to quantify how environmental impacts on the performance and success of individual organisms can affect the future development, stability and viability of populations and communities. Studies investigating the size structure of different coral or fish populations subjected to varying environmental regimes or stressors can reveal compensatory mechanisms offering resilience, or inform local management of specific ways to effectively conserve endangered populations, such as a need to improve local recruitment or preserve adult stocks. Analysis of recruitment plates and juvenile coral abundance can be used to determine the future stability and persistence of populations, or specific genera, over differing spatial scales, or on reefs exposed to differing environmental conditions. Alternatively, novel demographic techniques widely employed in other branches of ecology, could be applied to assess the composition of coral populations in the Wakatobi, and predict future population characteristics. These techniques would require accurate assessment of fish length and biomass (e.g. through use of on site stereo-videography techniques) or through accurate assessment of coral size frequency distributions that could incorporate the use of advanced 3D modelling techniques currently being utilised by Operation Wallacea around the Hoga reefs.
There is a triangle of reefs in Eastern Indonesia that have the highest diversity of hard coral genera, the proxy commonly used to assess overall diversity of coral reefs anywhere in the world. Both the marine research stations being used by the Opwall teams are in the centre of this triangle. The South Buton Marine Training and Research Centre has established a series of standard monitoring sites on reefs south of Bau Bau and around the surrounding small islands, with the objective being to use the data to develop plans for conserving these reefs. The Hoga Island Marine Research Station is located in the heart of the Wakatobi Marine National Park. Over the last 20 years, a series of scientists have been based at this site during the Opwall survey seasons and as a result, this is now the most published site in the Coral Triangle. For the last 14 years a series of constant monitoring sites around Hoga and eastern Kaledupa have been monitored for macroinvertebrates, fish communities, coral cover and community structure. The 2019 season will complete this monitoring plus some additional research projects.
The South Buton marine research centre opened in 2013 and has established a series of standard monitoring sites on reefs south of Bau Bau and around the adjacent islands. These are being monitored annually and it is hoped to use the data to demonstrate that a number of the reefs in this area are of high conservation value. Preliminary social studies have commenced as of 2017, involving interviewing fishermen and other local stakeholders to gauge areas of high fishing pressure and the preferred catch methods. The next step is then to begin implementing some conservation management strategies involving all of the local stakeholders in the near future. There is also a small team at this site working in collaboration with the Global Fin Print Project, which monitors shark and ray populations through the use of baited remote underwater video systems.
The Hoga Island marine research station is located in the heart of the Wakatobi Marine National Park. Over the last 20 years a series of scientists have been based at this site during the Opwall survey seasons and have built up the publications emanating from the site to a level which is unsurpassed by any other marine research site in the Coral Triangle. These data and publications have been used to promote the biodiversity value of the Wakatobi, raise its profile internationally and in particular enable it to be designated as a Biosphere Reserve. For the last 12 years a series of constant monitoring sites around Hoga and eastern Kaledupa have been monitored for fish communities, coral cover and community structure and macro-invertebrates. In addition annual fisheries monitoring is being completed to assess changes in the fisheries particularly as some of the management initiatives developed by Opwall (e.g. buy outs of fishing licences and carrageenan extraction) begin to hopefully have an impact. Alongside these long-term monitoring projects there are also newer projects such as a coral restoration program and seagrass monitoring to provide a wide range of opportunities to all.
At the marine sites during the day, the weather is normally sunny and warm (around 30 degrees Celsius), and the night temperatures drop to around 20-25 degrees Celsius. Being on the coast means there is often a pleasant breeze so it does not always feel this hot. It rains rarely, but when it does it tends to be very heavy for short periods of time.
Fitness level required
Low-Moderate. Some fitness is required for in water activities, but conditions are relatively easy.
Facilities on Hoga are comfortable, but very basic – the site has shared huts with beds and mattresses and a mandi style bathroom (squat toilet and bucket shower) attached. There is very limited cell phone signal which can usually only be used with an Indonesian SIM card and no Wifi access.