Indonesia: Seagrass Deterioration Threatens Indonesia's Fishing Future

Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 19 Jul 16;

Jakarta. Findings of a decade long research project shows the conditions of Indonesia's seagrass meadows is deteriorating at a fast rate, raising concerns about the country's commitment to its maritime future.

Richard Unsworth, the head researcher on the project, said that while Indonesia has a natural abundance of seagrass, research has found a loss over over half a square kilometer of seagrass, triggering alarms about the future of the fishery industry.

“Indonesia has a huge reliance on seafood and seagrass plays an important part of supplying resources for the fishery,” Unsworth told the Jakarta Globe in an interview via Skype on Sunday (17/07).

The research project, launched by Unsworth at the Swansea University in Wales 10 years ago, is a collaborative effort with researchers from Cardiff University and Hasanuddin University, Makassar, monitoring seagrass in sites around Southwest Sulawesi, Wakatboi, Lombok and Jakarta.

The team also conducted studies throughout the waters of Sri Lanka, Cambodia and the Philippines.

Seagrass — not to be confused with its algae counterpart seaweed — is a terrestrial plant adapted to live in the sea, produces flowers and seeds and undergoes photosynthesis.

The plant plays an important role in marine life, providing habitats for young fish hiding from predators and as a major food source. The grass stores carbon dioxide in sediment, helping to filter the water.

With a focus on stagnant seagrass development, Unsworth's PhD research in Wakatobia has found seagrass in the area is less healthy and less dense due to coastal development and disruptive fishing.

Wakataboi was designated a biosphere reserve in 2010 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco)'s Man and the Biosphere Program.

Unsworth believes that in order to stop the decline, a collaborated effort between local government, fishery agencies and the wider community must be introduced to educate on the importance of seagrass, repair rivers and replanting trees and ending the practise of ships and fishing boats anchoring in seagrass meadows.

While marine conservation primarily focuses on coral reef preservation, Unsworth says the challenge is changing mindsets about seagrass preservation.

“Part of coral reef conservation is protecting the habitats that support coral reefs and seagrass meadows do that as it serves as a nursery for baby coral fish and it provides clean water for coral reefs to sustain,” Unsworth said.

“Seagrass is not as sexy and exciting as coral reefs.”

He said it is difficult to engage large environmental conservation organizations, like the World Wildlife Fund, in the issue as its difficult to sell to the public.

In an effort to raise awareness, Unsworth and his team conducted a series of events in Wakatobi with the local government, fishery managers, the NGO Forkani and local fishermen focusing on the importance of seagrass and marine preservation.

Workshops with fishermen have been conducted by Unsworth and his peers to teach them about irresponsible anchoring and fishing.

“It’s not about how much seagrass Indonesia has, but it’s about stopping the decline of seagrass population,” Unsworth said.

“The hardest part is that Indonesia is so big and there’s a limited pool of scientists to do this research.”

According to Unsworth, seagrass populations have decreased across the globe. While Europe is on the road to recovery, Indonesia is continuing its decline.

“It’s not always about trying to save the cute fish, it’s about trying to save the fisheries, which is key to Indonesia’s future,” he said.

Preserving Indonesia's seagrass should be a priority for Indonesia, he said, as many popular fish species found in local markets are closely associated with seagrass and are as such at risk of extinction, including the rabbitfish and emperor fish.

In order to stop the decline, Indonesia must adopt long term monitoring strategies and bring in experts form other countries which have dealt with the same environmental issue, such as Japan, Australia or the US, he said.

While he does not agree with Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti's method of fish bombs, he supports her preaching of the country's future being tied to fisheries.

“She’s right to say that managing fisheries is important for the future,” he said.

Seagrass in Indonesia at risk from human activities
Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 23 Jul 16;

In peril: A man fishes in a seagrass meadow damaged by sand mining in the Pari Islands, north of Jakarta.(Courtesy of Wawan Kiswara)

Seagrass meadows in the country are turning into muddy wastelands as they are under widespread threat from human activities and are often overlooked in conservation, putting the fisheries industry in peril.

Seagrass helps keep oceans clean, protects sandy beaches and increasingly helps to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Loss of seagrass has been documented in places such as Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara, Manado in North Sulawesi, Wakatobi in Southeast Sulawesi and the Pari Islands, north of Jakarta, according to a group of Indonesian and UK scientists.

“Pollution is the biggest problem for seagrass in Indonesia,” Swansea University marine ecologist Richard Unsworth told The Jakarta Post, in reference to the country’s many polluted seas.

“What that means is that there’s no light for seagrass [as a result of pollution] because it’s essentially a plant that has adapted to living in the sea,” Unsworth said.

The second biggest threat for seagrass is coastal development. “So when people build houses on the seafront or claim lands to build ports or new development, this has a big impact upon seagrass,” he said.

In the Pari Islands, for instance, seagrass is being destroyed so that people can construct houses where the seagrass meadow use to be.

The third problem is overfishing, which significantly causes imbalances in the marine ecosystem. All these problems are killing seagrass meadows across the archipelago.

“Seagrass supports biodiversity and traps a lot of CO2 [carbon dioxide] from the ocean. Algae doesn’t do those things. So if the algae becomes dominant, it’s no longer a productive ecosystem,” said Unsworth.

By trapping emissions, he said seagrass meadows were important in mitigating the impacts of climate change because a large meadow of seagrass could trap a lot more CO2 than a forest and could store carbon in sediment, making seagrass more important than many forest types. The country has an estimated total seagrass area of 30,000 square kilometers, which potentially can harness 368.5 million metric tons of CO2.

Besides its benefit to the environment, seagrass meadows are also an important national resource that provides support for fisheries, according to Hasanuddin University researcher Rohani Ambo-Rappe.

“Indonesia is the world’s biggest fish producing nation and seagrass is critically important for supporting fisheries because baby fish live in seagrass and many types of fish spend their early years in seagrass as well. Healthy seagrass means healthy fisheries,” said Rohani.

Realizing that the nation’s seagrass meadows are in peril, a group of seagrass experts led by researchers at Swansea University, Cardiff University and Hasanuddin University recently gathered in Makassar, South Sulawesi, to collect evidence of the current status of seagrass, survey risks and develop conservation solutions.

It was the first time such evidence has ever been collated. The evidence highlights that action is urgently required to minimize damage to seagrass and to make them resilient to rapid and global environmental change.

Conservation management strategies are required to address specific threats to seagrass, which then can be implemented across the archipelago.

For example, seaweed farming can be conducted in deeper waters away from seagrass where water clarity is higher, increasing seaweed growth. Furthermore, coastal development needs to operate in a manner sensitive to the local habitat and illegal sand mining on important beaches needs to be policed.

“The government in Indonesia can start by recognizing the importance of seagrass. It’s not just Indonesia’s problem, it’s a global problem.

“One billion people on the planet live within 50 km from seagrass meadows but most of those people don’t know that,” Unsworth said.

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