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Indonesia in Focus

Sea Change Possible

Username By Barrie | May 16th, 2008 | Comments No Comments

There’s a war being waged in the oceans of Indonesia with death and destruction to be found along the vast coastline of this country. Cyanide and explosives are being used by unscrupulous fisherman to extract sea life for commercial gain. Trawlers from Taiwan, China and other foreign parts are stealing the nation’s fish. Some of the country’s most precious marine life is being threatened with extinction. Invaluable mangroves are being ripped out and replaced with shrimp farms. An alarming amount of precious species living in our oceans are endangered. Coral reefs, rich in biodiversity, are being destroyed.

There can be no doubt that healthy marine life is essential to this country, not only for the sake of the environment as Jonathan Wootliff writes.

The oceans provide an important source of food, give livelihoods to millions, and bring in much-needed income for the Indonesian economy.

As the world’s largest archipelago comprising nearly 14,000 islands, Indonesia has a readily-available source of protein for domestic consumption in its waters.

Fish is the main food staple for the millions of Indonesians living along the coasts and an estimated quarter of the entire population is financially dependent on fishing.

Sales of fish products to overseas markets contribute around US$2 billion annually.

The Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, created just five years ago, is taking steps to tackle these problems. But the future of Indonesia’s marine biodiversity remains severely threatened.

While supporting growth in the industry, the government recognizes the need to protect marine life to ensure its long-term sustainability. But it is a huge challenge.

Environmental non-governmental organizations have been leading the call for sustainable fishing. They warn that short-term gains threaten the future of Indonesia’s fisheries.

Key to their success is targeting the private sector, and particularly the international markets. NGOs have taken their cause overseas, to the United States and Europe where Indonesian fish products are exported.

High profile campaigns are helping to encourage fish buyers, suppliers and retailers to demand sustainably harvested products. Appeals have been made to powerful retailers like the US giant, Wal-Mart, to ensure that they only buy responsibly-sourced produce.

The Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) is a new organization that is breaking ground in the world of sustainable seafood and marine and freshwater conservation.

It aims to enable leading private-sector stakeholders to be proactive in the management of unsustainable sources of seafood, and help them to buy sustainable products.

“We need to get the international market to agree not to buy unsustainably produced seafood from Indonesia,” says the SFP’s Jakarta-based chief operating officer, Sari Surjadi.

“If the demand is there from the lucrative overseas markets for sustainable products, then the producer has no choice but to supply it,” she adds.

As a veteran of the environmental NGO community, having previously worked for a decade for the Indonesian arm of Conservation International, and witnessed many destructive fishing practices, Sari is now seeing signs that the market is becoming more responsible.

In Indonesia, the SFP is focusing its initial efforts on the challenge of protecting the future viability of the blue swimming crab.
The SFP is making headway in getting the export industry to reject egg-bearing female crabs and ones that are too young, which are all-too-often being scooped from the seas.

But there’s a long way to go. As marine habitat destruction abounds, more of Indonesia’s magnificent marine species are facing extinction, especially the grouper, reef fish and turtle.
And the viral-like spread of fish farms, inappropriately located along some shorelines, is destroying mangroves that play a vital role in protecting coastal communities from battering from the seas. Indeed, there is evidence that the mangroves saved communities from devastation in the tsunami.

If we don’t respect marine life it will disappear, thus depriving people of jobs, making coastal communities vulnerable to the elements, and irreversibly destroying our rich biodiversity.

The message has yet to resonate with ordinary Indonesians. It’s important for citizens to vote with their feet. The time has come for Indonesians to ask more questions about how their seafood is being harvested and produced.

Ask questions when you buy. Can the supermarkets and restaurants assure you that their fish products have been sustainably sourced? If in doubt, why not leave it out.

People power can save our marine life, safeguard jobs and protect coastal communities.

We are the foot soldiers in the war to save our seas. For the sake of our environment and our economy, we cannot afford to lose.

Jonathan Wootliff is an independent sustainable development consultant specializing in the building of productive relationships between companies and NGOs. He can be contacted at jonathan@wootliff.com

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