Jun 24, 2024 Last Updated 5:50 AM, Jun 24, 2024

Villagers keep the seas alive

Published: Sep 29, 2007

Coastal villagers will protect reefs if they know it is in their interest. IAN DUTTON and BRIAN CRAWFORD report on an international project that goes to the cutting edge.


Give a person a fish, and you feed them for a day. Show them how to fish, and you feed them for life. The coastal communities of North Sulawesi hardly need to be taught how to fish. But they desperately need help in avoiding the temptation to make a quick buck from non-sustainable resource exploitation.

The recent economic turmoil and ongoing global climate change make it essential that coastal communities develop the skills to become resource managers rather than merely resource users.

A new coastal resources management program called Proyek Pesisir is helping communities in North Sulawesi, East Kalimantan and Lampung to develop these skills. They are learning that there are better economic options than to destroy the diverse ecosystems their communities rely on for survival.

Proyek Pesisir was formed in 1997. It brought the US Agency for International Development, the Coastal Resources Center of the University of Rhode Island near New York, and the Government of Indonesia together into a cooperative program. The project began its work in three coastal villages in the Minahasa regency of North Sulawesi.


Three villages, Talise, Bentenan and Tumbak, and Blongko, were selected as representative of the problems facing all coastal communities in Indonesia (box 1). Major issues include overfishing, mangrove conversion, coastal erosion, capture of rare and endangered marine species, poor infrastructure, and tourism development pressures. Recent droughts brought on by El Nino, and the region-wide financial crisis, have exacerbated the situation (box 2).

The first step was extensive consultations with coastal resources management agencies, industry, universities, non-government organisations and other stakeholders. Proyek Pesisir then combined a top-down with a bottom-up approach. The aim was to encourage sustainable use of coastal resources.

The bottom-up strategy was to appoint full-time field extension workers. These people went to live in each of the villages, to help communities choose more appropriate approaches to resource management. After only six months work, field workers in the adjoining villages of Bentenan and Tumbak have made impressive progress.

The most striking Proyek Pesisir initiative was 'Operation Crown- of-Thorns', launched in January 1998 in response to an outbreak of the voracious starfish. Monitoring programs determined that the Crown-of-Thorns outbreak could destroy most of the living reef in one year if left unchecked. Villagers, government employees, university students and local dive operators banded together to physically return the starfish populations to normal levels.


Less dramatic but equally important are community-based initiatives to protect coral reefs, mangroves and other coastal ecosystems. In Bentenan, a coral reef conservation group planted hundreds of mangrove seedlings on the reef flat in an erosion- prone area, an initiative copied by the villagers in Tumbak. Both villages have also switched from mining coral for house foundations and septic systems to using volcanic rock instead.

Community representatives from Apo Island in the Philippines came over for visits, and Indonesians went there on exchange. These Philippine villagers have successfully established community- based marine sanctuaries. Since then, both the villages of Bentenan and Tumbak are planning their own local marine sanctuaries. In Bentenan, the sanctuary will be complemented by a meeting and information centre that will facilitate public participation and education on coastal resources management issues.

Even the best community program will flounder, however, if government policies contradict the effort. Proyek Pesisir therefore also works on top-down programs in its two-track approach to integrated coastal management.

Integrating both tracks is done by working with national institutions so that lessons learned in the local track are promoted and replicated in national coastal programs. Key institutions involved in this process include the Directorate- General for Regional Development of the Ministry for Home Affairs, and the Centre for Coastal and Marine Resources Studies of the Bogor Agricultural University (IPB).

Beyond 2000

The integrated coastal management extension programs of Proyek Pesisir are the first to be implemented outside protected areas in Indonesia. They serve as valuable learning models. The knowledge and experience gained from these and related field programs to be developed in East Kalimantan and Lampung between 1998 and 2003 will provide a firm foundation for stronger, decentralised programs throughout Indonesia in the next millennium.

Ian Dutton and Brian Crawford work for the University of Rhode Island, and are based in Jakarta and Menado respectively. Proyek Pesisir can be contacted at crmp@cbn.net.id or by faxing 62-21- 392 6423.


[Box 1]

How important are coastal resources?

Over 41 million Indonesians (22 percent of the population) live in coastal communities and depend directly on marine and coastal resources. A further 38 percent live on coastal plains. Coastal populations are growing at more than twice the national average and are increasingly concentrated in Indonesia's largest cities.

Marine and coastal resources account for around 22 percent of Indonesia's gross domestic product (GDP). Coastal and offshore waters also support the oil and gas, fisheries and tourism industries, which together account for 17 percent of total foreign exchange earnings.

Most of these uses have been concentrated in more densely settled coastal areas of central and western Indonesia. But in recent years exploitation of resources in eastern Indonesia has accelerated. This trend will continue. For example, the Ministry of Fisheries announced a plan to create another 500,000 hectares of aquaculture ponds in eastern Indonesia in 1998.

Seventy five percent of Indonesia's total area is sea. Indonesia's historical pattern of exploiting the vast coastal waters has degraded coastal resources. Most people know about the plight of Indonesia's coral reefs. Less than 5 percent are in excellent condition. A number of new initiatives are now underway to rehabilitate and manage them.

The live fish trade in Asia has grown rapidly. Indonesia is the major source of fish for this lucrative business. The fish are often caught with dynamite and cyanide. There has been considerable publicity about the impacts of this type of fishing.

Fisheries production in Indonesia increased from 1.2 million tons in 1968 to 3.5 million tons in 1992. Fisheries products are now the fifth-largest non-oil export item. This massive increase has been accompanied by rapid loss of coastal mangroves and seagrasses. In South Sulawesi alone, 80 percent of mangroves have been cleared in the past 15 years.

Less well documented, but equally serious, are the localised extinctions of species such as clams, sea cucumbers, turtles, dugong and sharks. The causes are ignorance about marine and coastal resources, and a lack of reliable data on resource exploitation levels. The recently published Ecology of Indonesia's seas (Periplus, 1997) reveals how much needs to be learned about Indonesia's mega-diverse seas, and how little time remains to reverse present unsustainable resource exploitation practices.

[Box 2]

El Nino, the financial crisis, and North Sulawesi

El Nino and the financial crisis have placed Indonesia in the forefront of international news. Most headlines concern forest fires in Kalimantan, famine in Irian Jaya, and food riots in Java. The impacts in North Sulawesi do not appear as dramatic, but the coastal communities in Proyek Pesisir field sites have also suffered.

Talise: Contaminated drinking water.

At the height of the drought in 1997, a severe outbreak of diarrhea accompanied by vomiting (possibly cholera) hit Kinabohutan Island. One child and one elderly villager died. The low-lying island is only one kilometer square but supports over 100 people. The scarce potable water is drawn from shallow wells. During the drought, the wells were contaminated from nearby latrines. The Ministry of Health sent a crisis team to treat the affected people and chlorinate the wells. The cause of the gastro-intestinal disease still exists. A repeat outbreak will be more difficult to handle, because drugs have become more expensive and are in short supply due to the economic crisis.

Bentenan & Tumbak: Crop failures.

Virtually no rain has fallen on these two rural communities for the past year. Large swaths of coconut trees, clove trees and vanilla plants have died. Several springs have dried up, so villages must now pay for water. This additional financial burden comes at a time when cash income and subsistence foodstuffs have declined from failing crops.

Blongko: Migration.

At the end of the previous El Nino events (1988, 1993), population figures dropped 20 percent in this village. The population drop may have been due to crop failures forcing villagers to migrate to cities in search of work and food. This hypothesis is being investigated by the Blongko field extension officer, who wants to predict the potential for repeat migration. Employment opportunities outside the village, however, will be limited this year because of massive layoffs caused by the financial crisis.

The villages are planning their own local marine sanctuaries.

The villages have switched from mining coral for house foundations and septic systems to using volcanic rock.

A reef conservation group planted hundreds of mangrove seedlings on the reef flat in an erosion-prone area.

Villagers, government employees, university students and local dive operators banded together to exterminate Crown-of-Thorn starfish.

Inside Indonesia 55: Jul-Sep 1998

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