Sustaining the unique

By | Science & Technology
Indonesian coral reefs credit@prilfishviaflickr.com

The world renowned “Coral Triangle” is host to the Indonesian archipelago. A marine biodiversity jewel, it also enjoys the company of some Malaysian parts, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines.

At 5, 000 km long and 2, 000 km wide and hosting 17, 000 islands, Indonesia boasts over 85 km2 of some of the most diverse coral reef systems. This area totals one-eighth of the world’s coral reef. Due to the sensitivity and vulnerability of coral reefs to environmental pressures and changes in Indonesia, the Indonesian government was moved to launch Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management Program (COREMAP) in 1998.

The program aims to establish viable, operational, and institutionalized coral reef management systems in priority coral reef sites in Indonesia. To do so COREMAP has initiated three different phases: phase 1 aimed to establish a sustainable framework for a national coral reef management system in Indonesia; phase 2 targeted the establishment of ecosystem protective zones and the sustainable utilisation of the coastal ecosystem; while phase 3 attempts to provide communities with the capacity and incentives to co-manage their coral reefs in a sustainable fashion.

Predominantly in the form of fringing reefs, coral reef ecosystems may be found widely distributed in the archipelago; other forms include limited barrier reefs and atolls. Coral reef ecosystems function as living environments offering physical protection for the life that exists within. In addition they act as a source of abundant resources and enjoyable natural aesthetic beauty. A large number of organisms therefore utilise the coral reefs as a habitat, many of which are of economic importance. A complex and unique ecosystem is created by the interdependencies of these organisms with the environment and other life forms.

Coral reef scientists note that the centre of coral diversity can be discovered in Indonesia with 75 genera and 450 species of scleractinian corals documented in the Indonesian and surrounding waters. Overfishing and non-advantageous fishing practices, however, stand in the way of approximately two-thirds of the coral reefs in Indonesia. Coremap assists families greatly reliant on small-scale reef fishing as a source of livelihood. Coremap’s coral reef rehabilitation process is achieved by the establishment of fishing and protection zones, monitoring of coral reefs by authorised fishermen and publicising of coral reef concerns in the community.

Supported by the World Bank, Global Environment Facility (GEF), Asian Development Bank (ADB), Australian Development Aid (AusAid) and other donor agencies and countries, Coremap has altered the local economy. Sudirman, an Ecotourism owner, expands: “Before Coremap started, the people in my village mostly relied on fishing for income. Now I also see handicraft, souvenirs and culinary businesses opening up.” Coastal communities have discovered innovative ways to earn income using disposable resources in the area. Furthermore, revolving funds and training for business operations offered by the project enable individuals to diversify their livelihoods, improving local income by an average of 20%.

With the increased awareness of the significant value of coral reefs as a new source of income, community members assert a greater sense of determination to improve and protect the reefs. “My friends and I realize that we can now earn more income because the coral reefs have returned. So we put aside at least 10% of our profits to fund activities to protect the reefs,” expressed Sudirman.

Phase three of the project commenced in February 2014 and has focused on scaling up support for the alternative forms of income. This comprises the construction of infrastructure and an increase in the sales of product and services through the expansion of market access for community members. The final phase deals with local government, village programs and business innovation in order to engrave coral reef protection into development planning and improve the welfare of coastal communities.

How may the revival of coral reefs enhance the welfare of coastal communities in Indonesia as well as globally?

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