Text by Nonette Royo and the Coral Triangle Center

Our story began with the awakening of one person in the quiet world under the water. But this would have remained a dream without the passion, dedication, and expertise of all those who have contributed to what we are today.

The personal epiphany

In 1989, Ms. Rili Djohani, a marine biologist and seasoned diver, had already logged long hours underwater in the North Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. Still, the waters of the Coral Triangle were a revelation. Nowhere else is the underwater world so riotously colourful and rich, and no other place on the planet teems with such an abundance and diversity of life.

During her early dives back in Indonesia, Rili was reminded of how fragile this world is. Fishing with dynamite and explosives had left parts of the reefs gutted.

If unchecked, this tragedy would devastate the region and ultimately the whole planet. Ironically, local fishermen and their communities would be the first victims of the dying reefs.

Rili made it her mission to save the corals. But she also knew that to be successful, the effort to save the reefs had to be shared with those who depend on them; the local people needed to be enlisted.

The dream becomes reality

In 2000, while Rili was the Country Director for The Nature Conservancy’s Indonesia Marine Program (TNC-IMP), she took the first step – the Coral Triangle Center (CTC) was founded under the auspices of The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The idea was that the new department would narrow the organisation’s much broader scope and would concentrate on the region’s reefs.

An early champion was George Tahija, at the time a member of TNC’s advisory board for Indonesia. Mr. Tahija shared the conviction that the strengths of modern marine management and scientific approaches needed to be transferred to local actors. He was also one of those who recognised the need for CTC’s autonomy, when it became apparent that its goals could be better accomplished as an independent local organisation. This step towards independence was fully supported by TNC, who provided foundational funding support and transitional periods to enable the CTC to become a standalone entity.

With a small team in place, Mr. Tahija, together with Mr. Hasyim Djalal, an influential diplomat, widely respected scholar, and legal maritime expert who laid the foundation for archipelagic nations, and Mr. Made Subadia, a top Indonesian conservation official, founded CTC as an independent Indonesian foundation in 2010.

Riji Djohani, the inspirational driving force behind the CTC

Riji Djohani, the inspirational driving force behind the CTC

The human connection

Even before its life as a new organisation officially started, CTC worked towards one of the most significant developments in the area: the sixnation agreement called “The Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security ” (CTI-CFF). Mr. Johannes Subijanto, our Deputy Executive Director, worked alongside Rili and others from across different organisations in the Coral Triangle countries to bring about this unprecedented partnership, which launched just one year before CTC itself. In 2014, CTC became the CTI–CFF’s first partner, the only locally-based organisation to join international giants such as Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

The future

Six years after CTC’s inception, and the the next big step is to build a state-of-the-art learning complex and conference centre, to be known as the Coral Triangle Center for Marine Conservation (Regional Learning Hub). It is here that we seek to build bridges: the centre will house an exhibition open to the public, where visitors can engage with in-depth knowledge about the Coral Triangle, its marine environment, and its people, and learn about the dangers that threaten them as well as the available solutions.

In 2010, when we began as an independent entity, we had just five employees. In 2016, we have 29 employees, have trained 2,500 individuals, and have a strong network of hundreds of collaborators from the Coral Triangle and beyond.

Since our work started, we have witnessed the power and beauty of human resilience, enthusiasm, and the strength of people connected by the desire to serve the sea that is the very foundation of life on our planet.


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This article was featured in the #conservation section of Scuba Diver AUSTRALASIA (Issue 3/2016)