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Communities are the Key to Protection of Coastal and Marine in the Wallacea Region

Out of 3,257,483 km2 of waters in the territory of Indonesia, about 2.5 million hectares are coral reefs, making Indonesia a center for marine diversity. Fish thrives on healthy corals. The marine biodiversity also makes the waters of the archipelago an important migration route and marine sanctuary. As a maritime nation, Indonesia's marine wealth is a blessing for seafarers when looking for fish.

In the eastern part of Indonesia, precisely in the area known as the Wallacea area, small and traditional fishing communities rely heavily on wild fisheries around the coastal areas. This practice, which has long been supported by local wisdom, is now increasingly being pushed by the practice of capture fisheries using destructive methods and non-environmentally friendly fishing gear such as bombs, poison, and tiger trawls.

Fishes with high economic value were abundant in healthy coral reefs, but now disappear as their habitats are being destroyed due to these practices. Fishermen who used to be able to fish near the beach where their families live, now have to go to sea further and spend much more money for fishing costs. The population of various marine life threatened with extinction is decreasing.

For the past three years, the Wallacea Partnership Program has been putting efforts to encourage the community-based coastal and marine protection practices at the site level. The program applies a strategy for determining Marine Conservation Areas at village level combined with awareness and capacity building for fishermen. This strategy is effective in protecting and recovering coastal areas, as well as dispelling destructive fishing practices from village fishing areas.

This program has facilitated eighteen local conservation initiatives in five marine corridors, namely Solor-Alor, Buru, North Sulawesi, Togean-Banggai, and Halmahera in three years of implementation (2015-2017). Adi Widyanto, the Leader of Regional Implementation Team of the Wallacea Partnership Program, was attending a Workshop on Marine Biodiversity Conservation and Marine Protected Areas which was organized in Luwuk city, Banggai Regency, Central Sulawesi on Wednesday, 2 May 2018. He explained that at the beginning of the program the effectiveness of the protection model was experimented by Burung Indonesia and partners at the site level, and it was designed specifically for villages. When compared to conservation areas, this model is not very significant.

“The typical of this program is a ground-up designed area formation model, with the involvement of communities on the assessment and consultation for boundary determination. Feedback from the partners on site, revealed that the model is not only effective in suppressing destructive fishing but also restoring the 'comfort zone' for marine biota to re-colonize the areas they previously left because of damage to coral habitats,” Widyanto added.

In Wallacea region, destructive fishing practices have long been happening in the waters of Balantak, which is located in the Togean-Banggai sea corridor. This practice is carried out to meet the various needs of the fishing industry. This situation increases the threat to various endangered species and marine ecosystems in general. One of the partners of the Wallacea Partnership Program, the Relawan Orang dan Alam or ROA (Volunteer Society for People and Nature), revealed that the approach model at the site level has succeeded in reducing the intensity of destructive fishing practices and encouraging communities to be actively involved in the establishment and management of Marine Protected Areas (MPA). The ROA itself has been strengthening the actions to save coastal and marine ecosystems and protected species in Balantak waters since early 2017.

“The outcome of this approach is the establishment of participatory MPA by the community and the raise of awareness and knowledge about the conservation of marine and coastal areas. Now the community in two assisted villages in Talang Batu have collectively formed MPA monitoring groups,” said Mochammad Subarkah, the Leader of ROA.

Meanwhile, Mat Bahsoan, the Program Coordinator of the Jaring Advokasi Pengelolaan Sumber Daya Alam or Japesda (Advocacy Network of Natural Resources Management) said that this community-based coastal and marine protection model has acquired them a lesson on how communities finally able to build a network with outsiders in order to manage water areas at Uwedikan and Lambangan villages in Banggai Regency.

The water area of Uwedikan Village is a crossing route for dugongs and sea turtles, but the marine ecosystem is threatened by destructive fishing practices using bombs and potassium. Bahsoan explained, “After several efforts of awareness and capacity building, the community initially agreed to form an MPA. As time went by, in hope that there would be a continuation of cooperation related to the management of marine and coastal areas, they agreed to resolve a Marine Conservation Area. This agreement was sealed on a village government regulation on the management group of Marine Conservation Area and draft regulations related to marine protected areas.”

The positive results achieved by the partners of the Wallacea Partnership Program were warmly welcomed by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. According to the Associate for Marine and Coastal Ecosystem Management at the Directorate General of Marine Spatial Management, Muhammad Saefudin, there are two essential functions of marine conservation areas, namely providing healthy ecosystems and reduce habitat degradation and extinction of fish resources.

Saefudin gave an explanation on the general management of marine and coastal ecosystems in Indonesia. “Conservation areas are still prioritizing the sustainability of non-consumable fish and environmental service management; however, it has not yet become an integral part of the management of Water Management Areas (WPP). Case in point, the conservation area is currently only about 5 percent of the WPP area which is ideally 30 percent. A number of weaknesses also need to be improved, namely regarding institutions, human resources, supervision, and the absence of a sustainable funding system,” he described.

The local government's initiative to manage marine space went through a period of doubt after the enactment of Law 23 of 2014 concerning Regional Government, particularly regarding the division of affairs in the marine and fisheries sector. This law transferred the rules of authority for the management of the marine sector from the district government to the provincial government. To bridge the transfer of authority for the management of the marine sector, community involvement through a partnership model with the formation of community supervisory groups at the village level can be key, especially regarding limited funding and human resources (MEI).