Rare reef is focus of ZSL London Zoo photo exhibit

One of the world’s rarest coral reefs is the focus of a stunning new photography exhibition on display from today (Weds 5 March) at ZSL London Zoo. 

Expedition: Danajon Bank, highlights the grave threats facing Danajon Bank, one of only six double-barrier coral reefs in the world and the evolutionary birthplace for most species in the Pacific Ocean.

The result of a partnership between the Zoological Society of London’s Project Seahorse and the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP), Expedition: Danajon Bank provides an intimate and troubling portrait of the 130-km coral reef in the Philippines that suffers from overfishing and harmful practices such as trawling and blast fishing. In late 2013 the reef was struck by twin natural disasters: a 7.2-magnitude earthquake and super-typhoon Haiyan.

Anemone fish on Bilang bilangan reef. Danajon Bank is thought to be the evolutionary birthplace for most species in the Pacific Ocean.

“I have photographed marine ecosystems all over the world and the Danajon Bank is one of most memorable and complex I have ever seen,” says Thomas P. Peschak, an iLCP fellow and winner of prestigious BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year and World Press Photo awards.

“This little-known but incredibly important ecosystem — the evolutionary birthplace of many fish and other marine species found all over the Pacific Ocean today — is at a conservation crossroads. Facing threats of overfishing and trawling, combined with the aftermath of two huge natural disasters, Danajon Bank needs the world’s attention and support now more than ever,” says Dr. Heather Koldewey, ZSL’s Head of Global Conservation Programmes and scientific adviser to the expedition.

A boy gathers gastropod eggs during low tide.

The photo exhibit, which features images by world-class photographers Peschak, Luciano Candisani, Michael Ready, and Claudio Contreras-Koob, goes deeper than beautiful imagery — though it features plenty of that, documenting, among other things, rarely seen animal behaviours. It depicts the threats facing both the Danajon Bank ecosystem and the human communities that depend on it for survival.

To counter the impact of overfishing and increase food security, exhibit organiser Project Seahorse has for nearly two decades worked with local communities to establish small marine protected areas in the region. But the recent earthquake, which has damaged large swaths of the reef and left many people homeless, presents new challenges.

A tiger-tail seahorse (Hippocampus comes) on Danajon Bank reef.

“We don’t yet know the entire impact of the earthquake, but it’s already enormous. Only by scaling up protections can we ensure a future for the reef and the communities,” Dr. Koldewey says.

Adds Peschak: “Amid the vast stretches of badly damaged habitat, you can see an incredible array of species still surviving. It gives you an idea of how vibrant and full of life the Danajon Bank once was, and how vibrant it could again be – with the right protection.” 

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