Indonesia: Why bother about marine protected areas?

Freddy Pattiselanno, Manokwari Jakarta Post 28 Jun 14;

Indonesia’s 17,508 islands have a range of marine and coastal ecosystems along 50,000 miles of coastline, including beaches, sand dunes, estuaries, mangroves, coral reefs, sea grass beds, coastal mudflats, tidal flats, algal beds and small island ecosystems.

These ecosystems have been intensively used for commercial and subsistence purposes.

The exploitation of the coastal zone has an impact on habitat destruction and over-exploitation. These continuous problems emphasize the urgent need to implement marine protected area (MPA) management plans as part of an overall program to manage Indonesia’s marine resources.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently estimated that 1 billion people across the globe depended on fish as their primary source of animal protein. A study in 2008 said governments were committed to at least a six-fold increase in the global coverage of MPAs by 2012 to manage reefs and fish stocks. The system of MPAs in Indonesia began in 1982 as part of the country’s marine conservation efforts.

Fortunately, Indonesia already has one working example of a seascape approach to ocean governance in West Papua. The threats of over-fishing and warming, acidifying and rising oceans have made the province a priority for marine conservation programs.

In the early 1990s marine conservation initiatives for management and protection were initiated by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Today, there are 12 MPAs in the province’s Papuan Bird’s Head Peninsula (BHP).

An ecologically-connected network of MPAs across the seascape from Kaimana to Raja Ampat, to the Abun leatherback turtle MPA in Tambrau to the Cendrawasih Bay National Park of Teluk Wondama and Nabire — means that nearly 3.6 million hectares are now managed through MPAs.

The peninsula is also part of the Coral Triangle marine conservation area, containing the world’s greatest diversity of coral reef fish, with more than 1,650 species in eastern Indonesia alone.

However, many local residents still live below the poverty line, many live in remote areas with poor infrastructure and low levels of human development, relying on subsistence agriculture and artisanal fishing for their livelihoods.

A report by the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) said that until March 2013, West Papua was among eight provinces with the highest poverty rate (26.67 percent), second after neighboring Papua (31.13 percent).

Since the mid-1990s, hundreds of studies have examined the ecological impacts of MPAs. No-take protection for example, typically results in increasing an average of organism size, density, biomass and species richness within MPA boundaries.

Further, MPAs that protect coastal habitats, such as mangroves or sea grass, could also protect the shoreline from erosion, among others. Other advantages are an increase in cultural services, such as recreation that does not consume fish such as scuba diving and snorkeling.

However, the contribution of MPAs to poverty alleviation and sustainable development remains an area of contention and the impacts of MPAs on terrestrial biodiversity are poorly understood. Yet, the findings indicate that food security generally increases following MPA establishment, though some fishing communities experience a relative decline in their catch.

Between April and June 2013, we traveled along the coast among villages at the Bun MPA in Tambourine to survey the contribution of indigenous hunting on local livelihoods. We realized that although the villages were located along the coast, most households relied on agriculture while others earned from hunting and paid labor as conservation patrollers or contract work for the logging and mining companies. Socioeconomic research by the US chapter of the WWF in 2011 observed that no households were earning income from fishing.

In terms of marine resource management, local communities in the peninsula have long-established systems of territorial use rights to manage the access of family clans to reefs, which is fundamental to their societal structure. The customary law regulates the rights and duties of indigenous communities, including those regarding their natural resources. Their slogan “bur, nden, sem mikindewa membow” (land, forest and coasts are protected for the future) plays an important role in natural resource management.

The hunting of wild animals continues to be an important aspect of life in rural Papuan communities along the coast. Communities referred to money as the main reason for hunting, while others mentioned hunting was to supply households with animal protein sources.

Previous evidence indicated that hunting was more common along the coastal areas of the peninsula. Secondly, almost all coastal residents of different occupations were engaged in hunting for extra income and food.

Our survey revealed a strong signal that the reliance of local communities on hunting for both money and food could likely increase pressure on particular species.

Despite the demands on ungulate species (wild pig and deer), hunting practices along the peninsula also reduces pressure on marine ecosystems and reliance on marine resources that may benefit the Abun MPA management.

Despite a strong belief in natural protection through local customs, changing wildlife populations because of hunting practices along the coast affects the ecology of remaining coastal forests as many seed dispersers, such as deer and wild pig, may disappear.

Worse, impacts from deforestation and poorly planned coastal development such as landscape change because of road expansion, mining, logging and commercial plantations may increase the erosion and run-off of topsoil to coastlines, which may threaten the marine environment.

By acknowledging the negative social impact of MPAs on local communities, we draw attention from all stakeholders as our survey reveals that MPAs may also place more pressure on terrestrial biodiversity along the BHP.

Therefore, the integrated management of the land and coastal sites nearby or outside the MPA is urgent to foster rapid but sustainable development and ensure the long-term success of MPAs. More importantly, the involvement of local stakeholders in the planning, decision and implementation process are also urgent so they experience ownership of the MPAs.

The writer is a lecturer at Papua State University (UNIPA) in Manokwari, West Papua and an Australian Award Scholarship fellow at James Cook University and the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science in Cairns, Australia.

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