Protected as a National Park since 2001, the islands of Karimunjawa in the Java Sea sit within the heart of the coral triangle. Teeming with fish, this marine preserve serves as a monument to coral health and resilience. Bathed in equatorial sunlight and nutrient rich currents, the reef creatures receive everything needed to sustain maximum growth rates.

As is the case in a terrestrial forest ecosystem, a sun loving reef can achieve old growth status, given enough time and appropriate conditions. The Karimunjawa Park lies just below the equator in the land beneath the winds and thus avoids typhoon strength winds. Without physical disturbances, the branching, table, and basket corals grow to luxurious proportions. As each coral colony approaches its neighbor, they reach out at night with sweeper tentacles armed with stinging cells. A healthy reef is thus full of demilitarized zones between warring battalions of corals. Not satisfied with this limited warfare, the table corals extend farther afield with massive terraces to block their competitor’s sunlight.

To a casual observer, the result of this luxurious growth is sheer magnificence. The coral garden becomes so lush that there is no bare space for colonization. Multilevel terraces create an underwater city, where reef fish hide between branches, boulders, and baskets. Single-celled algae living within the corals add splashes of blue, gold, green, and red to complete the reefs allure. What a treat, to float among an undisturbed old growth forest, unchanged for millennia and protected into perpetuity.