Monday, October 06, 2008

Natuna fishermen work to preserve coral reef


Matheos Viktor Messakh for The Jakarta Post

Eight years ago, fisherman Mohamad Delan used potassium cyanide and dynamite bombs for fishing. The 38-year-old knew it was illegal and was caught twice by the marine authorities, but he was never worried.

The man, one of 1,456 fishermen in Sepempang village in Bunguran Timur subdistrict of Natuna regency, Riau Islands, could always bribe his way out of trouble.

"We used to pay the navy base commander Rp 1 million a month. If we caught only one napoleon fish (cheilinus undulatus) a day, we could pay off all of our debts," he told The Jakarta Post during a visit to the island recently.

"In fact, by using potassium or bombs we could catch up to three napoleon fish a day."

But Mohamad has a different perspective these days. He and the other fishermen have joined the Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management Program (Coremap), since the program was launched in the regency, back in 2004.

By joining the program, he said his income had dropped, from about Rp 4 million (US$430) a month to about Rp 2 million. But he said he did not have any regrets, adding that he cared more about his family and the environment.

"If I'm jailed, who is going to feed my family? A big income doesn't make any difference ... Besides, what will happen to our children if we continue using potassium and bombs?

"In 1999, before Coremap came here, it was even difficult to find a small octopus, but now we can easily find them," he said.

Of the 25,531 households in this outer island regency, 6,440 households or 25 percent depend on fishing.

With the support of Coremap, Sepempang village, together with nine other coastal villages in the regency, has established their own coral reef conservation institution (LPSTK). The other eight villages are Sabang Mawang, Pulau Tiga, Sededap, Tanjung, Sepempang, Kelanga, Pengadah, Kelarik Utara and Cemaga.

The 264,778-kilometer-square regency has 16 districts, 69 villages and six subdistricts.

Each village that has established it own LPSTK decided on its protected sea area through village consensus. Until now, Natuna has a total 142,977 hectares of protected sea.

These protected areas, which have been ratifed by a 2007 bylaw, are divided into core zones where fishing activities are not permitted and buffer zones where people are allowed to fish using environmentally friendly means.

Each LPSTK comprises several groups of people that are responsible for surveillance and monitoring of their protected area. They conduct public awareness activities to preserve the coral reefs.

Like other villages in the regency, Sepempang also introduced a new village regulation in 2006 to prevent the use of destructive fishing techniques such as cyanide and bombs. Punishments for using these methods vary from oral warnings to prosecution.

"We try to educate people in various ways, but we only bring them to court if they refuse to stop bad habits," Coremap's monitoring, controlling and surveillance coordinator for Natuna, Buyung Priyadi said.

But legal efforts and public awareness might not be enough on their own to preserve the coral reefs, which have co-existed with local island communities making their living from the sea for centuries.

Coremap also provides training for local groups in job skills for alternative livelihoods and has provided access to a revolving fund to help local fishermen start small businesses.

Of the 100 groups that have been established since 2005, 20 percent have received training, tools, materials and funding to start their own businesses, community-based management coordinator for Natuna regency, Eldi Saputra said.

A total of Rp. 9.78 billion has been disbursed to these groups within the last two years.

"We will likely approve any proposal on activities that will have a positive direct impact on people's lives," Eldi said.

"Our main goal is to change habits, not to change people's livelihoods. As fishermen, they have the right to make their living from the sea, but using different methods."

The approved, alternative livelihood projects since 2004 include seaweed farming, fish-breeding in keramba (net cages in water) and home industries such as fish crackers krupuk, wickerwork and crude palm oil production.

Keramba and seaweed farming have received the best responses, said Eldi, because the two sectors have established and prospective markets.

"People prefer to raise napoleon fish and groupers (serranidae), especially the tiger species (epinephelus fuscogatus) and the rat species (cromileptis altivelis), because they fetch higher prices on the market," said Eldi.

"Breeders can directly sell them to Hong Kong ships that come to the islands or to brokers."

Coremap's official, Zuriati, said in general there have been significant changes in people's livelihoods since revolving loan funds were disbursed starting in 2004.

"There is no doubt that keramba and seaweed farming has brought better living standards for the people, but for home industries we need to expand into larger markets. And in order to do that, we need better packaging as well as more consistent production," she said.

The Natuna Islands are a 272-island archipelago, located in the Natuna Sea between east and west Malaysia and Kalimantan. The Natuna Sea itself is a section of the South China Sea.

Of the regency territorial area, 97.3 percent or (262.156 square kilometers) is covered by sea, so its coral reefs have a huge potential for natural and economic resources.

Coral reef distribution in Natuna covers around 828,34 square kilometers or about 0.32 percent of the regency's sea area.

The type of coral reefs frequently found in Natuna include Acropora, Fungia, Merulina, Montipora, Pachiseris, Pectinia, Pavona, Pocillopora, Potites and Styllopora.

For the last two years, Natuna has received about Rp. 9.78 billion for the Coremap program.

Coremap executive secretary Jamaluddin Jompa said that according to a Coremap assessment, coral reef degradation in Indonesia was mostly caused by human intervention, so consquently the program emphasizes public awareness and the introduction of alternative livelihoods.

"The core problem is the human aspect, not on the coral reef itself, so it's more strategic to focus on the core of the problem." Jompa told The Post recently.

"As an expert in coral reefs I have to say that man-made rehabilitation is not a solution for coral reef degradation in Indonesia. It's lot easier to change people's bad habits than to spend hundreds of millions of rupiah on man-made rehabilitation programs with little possibility for success," said Jompa.

Meanwhile, Coremap's assistant director, Sadarun, said for long-term preservation, people needed to be able to see direct benefits from coral reef preservation to prevent program failure.

"It's dangerous if programes are only designed to preserve reefs without any benefits for the efforts of those involved," said Sadarun.

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