Major policy shifts are needed to prevent the destruction of the reefs, but for now, coastal communities are having an impact and the reduction in tourism due to COVID-19 is offering some breathing space
Coral reefs are a vital source of life for oceans and people. With coastal communities across the world dependent on incomes from fishing industries, millions of people relying on seafood for protein, and 25 per cent of all marine life calling reefs home, they are a vital resource for our world. The Coral Triangle region is the epicenter of reef biodiversity, with 76 percent of reef fish species found between the six Coral Triangle countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste.
Bali, one of the most popular spots in the region, is usually bustling with tourists and operators offering them the opportunity to experience life underwater. As businesses across the region reel from the fallout of lockdown measures to control the spread of COVID-19, many are now wondering how, and when, the island will recover. Developed on the ever growing wave of international tourism, it is not yet known what the long term impact of the pandemic will be for Bali’s tourism sector.
But as humanity tackles this unprecedented global health crisis, coral reefs are still faced with catastrophe, as climate change continues to alter the nature of our oceans. As businesses look towards recovery from the COVID-19 shutdown, returning with conservation in mind could shift key industries towards sustainable practices. While a global shuffle in policy and priorities are required to prevent the destruction of the reefs, for now, the small-scale actions of coastal communities and individuals are already having an impact. Community groups across the small islands off the east coast of Bali are becoming involved in protecting, managing and rehabilitating coastal and marine ecosystems, helping to slow the effects of climate change and reverse destructive fishing practices.
A protected area
Under the management of the Bali Provincial Government, and with the long-term support of Bali-based marine conservation NGO, the Coral Triangle Center, the Nusa Penida Marine Protected Area (MPA) is setting the tone for a local movement of change makers who understand the urgency of protecting their marine and coastal ecosystems.
The MPA encompasses the three islands of Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan, all of which fall within a zoning plan to regulate the use of the marine area. Some zones have been reserved for traditional livelihoods, such as fishing and seaweed farming, others for marine tourism. There is a ‘sacred zone’ which protects local customs and beliefs in the islands, and two ‘core zones’, restricted areas that protect key ecosystems and fish spawning grounds. But without strict enforcement of these zones, many believe the islands’ marine resources could be lost.
To support the MPA, local communities have started their own programs to educate local children and visitors to the islands on the importance of preserving coastal and marine ecosystems. One group, Satya Posana Nusa (SPN), is working to rehabilitate the mangrove forests on Nusa Lembongan, and teach the island’s children about living in harmony with the environment.
‘The MPA is very meaningful for our community, as [it] was established to manage the utilisation of the sea, and as a coastal community we rely on these marine resources’ said I Wayan Suarbawa, the head of SPN and a local seaweed farmer.
Wayan is also a member of the MPA management unit. The unit is made up of local residents, all of whom join patrols and surveys to support the MPA. They are seaweed farmers, fishermen and guesthouse owners, and they are all dedicated to the protection and management of the marine ecosystems around their islands. The community has already seen the positive impact of clear and effective management. With strict regulations supporting local customs and livelihoods, local communities have become increasingly invested in the MPA.