It Takes Villages to Conserve Indonesia’s Precious Coral Reefs
“Indonesia's coral reefs are a global treasure yet they are in danger. The World Bank Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management Project, or Coremap, helps communities revive damaged reefs and improve conservation efforts. Local fishermen are trained to monitor the reefs, and local schools include ecosystem conservation in their curriculum.” - World Bank Group
Wakatobi, Indonesia – As the world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia is blessed with at least 5.1 million hectares of coral reefs. However, almost 65 percent of the reefs are now considered threatened from overfishing. Almost half are considered threatened specifically from destructive fishing practices.
Nadjib Prasyad runs the Fisheries Office in Wakatobi, South-east Sulawesi, and he laments the various activities that destroy the reefs and consequently threaten the livelihood of the villages: fish bombing, sand extraction, collection of the reefs themselves. Prasyad says that, once the reefs die, so do the fish: “We have nothing except our coral reefs.So we have to really protect them since they’re the only source of our region’s development.”
Reviving and Conserving Coral Reefs
The Indonesian government sees the urgency of protecting the reefs. For over 10 years, the World Bank has supported the government’s conservation efforts, which include the Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management Project (COREMAP). This project aims to help empower local communities and governments to jointly manage the use of coral reefs and their surrounding ecosystem. Reviving destroyed coral reefs and improving conservation efforts may in turn increase fish yields and consequently boost the local economy.
In the second phase of the project, 358 coastal communities in seven districts were selected because the communities there suffered from pervasive poverty and extensive degradation of coastal resources.
Through the project, local governments set up protection areas which are then managed in collaboration with the central government. Fishermen are also involved as monitors who survey the protected areas and report any transgressions.
Fisherman Hendriawan checks the coral reefs every day, when he’s out fishing. “If we see people enter the protected area, we approach them to ensure they do not disturb the fish,” says Hendriawan, who adds that he asks intruders to fish outside the protected areas.
Hendriawan joined the reefs surveillance team after realizing the benefits of conservation: more fish. “When the coral reefs are healthy, there will be a lot of fish to catch and our income will increase,” he says.
Coremap is now part of the Coral Triangle Initiative, which includes Indonesia and five neighboring countries, and whose objective is to protect an area of enormous ecological diversity.
"When the coral reefs are healthy, there will be a lot of fish to catch and our income will increase." -Hendriawan (fisherman)
Raising Community Awareness
Community participation has been key to Coremap’s success. The sources of damage to the reefs were many, explained Nadjib Prasyad, but most important was the fact that, “People actually had no awareness about the dangers if the coral reefs were damaged.”
To help communities realize the potential dangers, the government carried out a broad public awareness program, including a radio program aired in the villages, events, and competitions held jointly with communities.
The awareness program also aims to educate members of the communities from a young age. The project supported production of materials for primary and secondary schools which teach the students about the importance of coral reefs. The materials were incorporated by the Ministry of Education and inserted in the formal local curriculum for districts where the project is active.
Many teachers say that the children are now more aware about the urgency to protect the environment. Rizki, a high school student, recently obtained a small district-government grant to research how to help protect the beach near his village. Coremap is his inspiration. “I’m interested in doing this because I’ve been taught about our environment since primary school,” says Rizki.
Prasyad notes that significant changes have taken place due to the project. “Coral reef coverage has increased and the sea grass is growing back,” he says.
Following the closing of the second phase of Coremap in 2011, some of the project’s achievements include:
Supported the establishment of ‘marine protected areas’ in six districts.
Significant improvements of live coral reef coverage in project-managed areas.
The reduction by 60 percent of Illegal/destructive fishing practices, from 2,200 infringements in 2005, to 880 infringements in 2010. Some 70 percent of cases have been successfully prosecuted.
Helped increase communities’ income in Coremap areas by 21 percent since 2008.
Establishment of coral reef management agencies and plans in 358 villages.
Training of teachers in 92 percent of schools, with the curriculum translated in nearly all the local languages.
Now in its third phase as of February 2014, Coremap is focused on incorporating the project’s approach into local government and village programs – a blueprint so that coral reef protection becomes an integral part of development planning and improves the welfare of coastal communities.