The islands of the central part of the Indonesian archipelago are separated from the islands to the east (Papua) and the west (Borneo) by deep ocean channels. These deep trenches prevented the central islands of Indonesia from being joined to the main continental land masses during the lowered sea levels of the Ice ages. As a result of the long period of isolation, a large number of unique species evolved. The whole region is now known as the Wallacea region after the famous Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, as it was he who first described the unique fauna. The forests of this Wallacea region are one of the least biologically studied areas in the world and one of the most likely places to discover vertebrate species new to science.
Operation Wallacea first started surveying the forests of Buton Island in SE Sulawesi in 1995. In 2004 these surveys resulted in a US$1 million World Bank/GEF grant being obtained to establish an example of best practice conservation management for a lowland forest. This project worked only in the central part of the island and finished in 2008. An assessment of the various quantifiable conservation targets showed that 90%+ of the targets had been achieved and in many cases significantly exceeded. Since that point, Opwall has continued with monitoring the abundance and diversity of key taxa in both the central and northern forests of Buton Island. All the Opwall gathered data on the northern and central forests of Buton is being submitted support an application to fund a REDD+ application to protect the carbon and biodiversity of the Buton forests and ensure that local communities have a financial benefit from this conservation programme. In 2017 survey teams will be completing surveys on the transect network at a series of camps spread across central and northern Buton. Most of these survey sites have been monitored in previous years and will provide annual data to assess changes in the biodiversity over time. The rapid assessment mobile team in the northwest corner of Buton will be completing biodiversity surveys in these forests building upon primary research conducted in 2016 and they are the first ever surveys in this area. Additionally, a long-running Island biogeography study examining evolutionary pathways in passerine birds will be continue in 2017, exploring genetic relationships between bird populations on several of South-east Sulawesi’s offshore Islands.
There is a triangle of reefs in eastern Indonesia, part of which lies within the Wallacea region, that have the highest diversity of hard coral genera in the world. This proxy is commonly used to assess overall diversity of coral reefs and is an indication of high species diversity in other taxa such as fish and large marine mammals. Both the marine research stations being used by the Opwall teams are in the centre of this triangle.
The south Buton marine research centre has established a series of standard monitoring sites on reefs south of Bau Bau and on 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 equal or even higher conservation value than those within the Wakatobi Biosphere Reserve.
The Hoga Island marine station is located in the heart of the Wakatobi 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.