Monday, October 06, 2008

Baru Sadarun: Fighting to preserve coral reefs

Matheos Viktor Messakh
for The Jakarta Post , Natuna, Riau Islands Tue, 09/23/2008 10:07 AM People

Some might think that growing market demand might worsens coral reef exploitation, but diving instructor Baru Sadarun has his own rationale.

For the 40-year-old man, as long as people realize the economic value of coral reefs, they will be more than happy to help preserve them.

He believes that coral reef conservation had been opposed in many places because the conservation effort was usually separated from people's daily lives and activities.

"There is a growing misconception that conservation is similar only to protection," Sadarun told The Jakarta Post.

"In fact, conservation should also be related to how people use natural resources...any conservation efforts will be opposed if people are only prohibited from the conservation area and cannot gain anything from it."

For Sadarun, coral reefs can be preserved if people in the designated conservation areas are able to use them as a fishing resource or as ecotourism sites, or for coral reef farming and trading (of fish and coral), or for other functions that will not harm the environment.

"It's time to introduce people to sustainable management, so they won't be allergic to conservation, but love it because they will gain far more benefit from doing it."

Sadarun might have learned from his experience on local resistance to coral management.

When he was conducting coral reef registration for the Southeast Sulawesi government in the Padamara islands in 1997, he was attacked by local fishermen with a fish bomb while diving.

"The fishermen might have thought that we wanted to disrupt their source of income...I was just lucky. I was found unconscious by my team, which came after they heard an explosion."

Born to a fisherman's family in Raha, Muna regency in Southeast Sulawesi on July 23, 1968, Sadarun has been an avid observer of coral reefs since he was a young man.

After completing high school in Raha in 1991, Sadarun left his village to study marine technology at Sam Ratulangi University in Manado, where he graduated in 1995.

"I am the son of a fishermen and I wanted to know the science of the coral reef. People in my home village have been making a living from coral for centuries and I wanted to know whether what they had been doing was right or wrong."

After graduating, he dived into the marine world through his work as a coral researcher for the Southeast Sulawesi government and also as a lecturer at Haluoleo University in Kendari.

Provoked by reports of coral reef destruction in the country, he completed his master's degree in marine technology focusing on coral reef transplantation, at the Bogor Institute of Technology in 1998.

"I have read many reports on coral destruction since my undergraduate studies, with many people shouting out loud about destruction, but no-one offering any solutions," said the man who received Man of the Biosphere Award from Unesco in 2001 for his research on coral reef transplantation.

Sadarun's interest in coral research was not an easy path at the start. Many of his colleagues said he was crazy during his early research years and his parents objected to his work.

"My people regarded the sea as teki which means sacred. They argued that we can only make a living from the sea, but are not allowed to play around with it.

"Initially they opposed my work but they became more favorable when they realized that I was actually repairing it and not harming it," said the man who is expecting to defend his doctoral thesis in Bogor Institute of Technology in November.

Sadarun said coral trading was one the prospective sustainable livelihoods for fishermen and people who lived along coastal regions, provided they knew how make a living from the sea, without creating a threat to it.

For Sadarun, who is now a section head for marine ecosystem rehabilitation at the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, many people who opposed coral reef trading, including academicians, activists or even government officials, did not really understand the nature of coral, especially its ability to grow.

"There will be no lost resources if trading is carried out with a replication strategy. Moreover, many people are becoming familiar with transplantation techniques. The problem arises only when we allow exploitation without any efforts towards the replacement of the resources."

Sadarun criticized many scholars who relied too much on James W. Nybakken book on Marine Biology which he said "did not convey enough information about coral reefs in the country."

"Nybakken claims that coral reefs can only grow about one centimeter a year, but in my experiments in several coastal areas such as in Mataram in West Nusa Tenggara, I found out that massive corals grow by between three to seven centimeters a year," said the man who has been diving in Australian, Japanese and Indonesian waters.

To assist his interest on coral reef research he also attempted to reach the highest rank in diving. He holds master dive and diving instructor certificates from the International Association for Diving Schools in Japan, gained in 2004 and 2008 respectively.

The father of four year old Steven Muhammad argued that knowledge about coral reefs in Indonesia is restricted by the lack of diving skills among scientists.

"How come they can be so sure about coral, if they cannot dive or have no interest in under water swimming," said the man who introduced diving as part of local content for marine and fisheries studies at Haluoleo University in 1996.

Although he agreed that coral reef destruction is faster than natural restoration, he believes there are still a huge quantity of coral resources in the country which have not yet been explored.

"On average, most of the sites that have been destroyed are no deeper than 10 meters below sea level. Between 15 and 20 meters depth, we still have a huge amount of coral resources," said the man who has organized several surveys on coral reefs in the country.

He is optimistic that Indonesia -- as one of the six Asian Pacific countries with rich marine diversity and probably the largest coral resources in the world -- should be able to boost its coral conservation through law enforcement and man-made conservation, using techniques such as coral transplantation, with which he has been working.

"As the country with the largest number of coral species and the largest coral coverage, there is no reason why we should oppose coral trading. What we need is regulation."

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