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."

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.