Indonesia: MPA Not Living Up to Expectation

Better management and getting the locals onboard are key to success.

The Marine Protected Area in Indonesia is failing to deliver expected results.  

Indonesia has a relatively extensive marine protected area (MPA) for the management of economic resources, biodiversity conservation, and species protection.  However, critics say persistent mismanagement is hampering the achievement of the objective to provide a better livelihood for local communities and protect the significant biodiversity.  

Therefore, the critics want the authority to strengthen the sustainable management of the MPA.  Although there is progress toward effective marine conservation, but much more need to be done to understand existing threats and the needs and concerns of the local coastal communities who largely depend on fishing for survival.

The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries revealed that as of December 2020, Indonesia has 23.9 million hectares of MPA, with more locations to be designated in the coming years as it targets 32.5 million hectares of MPA by 2030.  One major point of contention is that with more MPA, locals are locked out of more no-take zones where fishing is no longer allowed.

Better communication to resolve conflicts

Speaking to Maritime Fairtrade, human ecology researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) Ali Yansyah Abdurrahim said that no-take zones in the designated MPA has been creating friction between the authority and the locals who have been fishing there for generations before the implementation of the regulation.

“A healthy marine habitat is one of the indicators used to establish the core zone of MPA, and traditionally, this is where the locals had been fishing for years but they are now excluded from fishing there.  This situation creates conflicts in some regions,” Abdurrahim explained.

However, it is important to resolve this unnecessary conflict through better communication.  It must be communicated to the fishermen that no-take zones can significantly increase fish abundance and average fish size, and the resulting amount of fish eggs.  This will translate into increased catch outside the no-take zones for the fishermen.

Another area where communication can help to address fishermen’s concern is where there is conflict between science and local custom in the eastern part of Indonesia.  According to Abdurrahim, in Selayar, South Sulawesi, where the local coastal communities have their own way of conservation for generations where for a certain duration of the year, fishermen take a break from fishing and when they do fish, they also use the opportunity to socialize as well.

“However, scientists may not have the same idea because to them, the objective of conservation is to protect the selected area from all form of human activities at all times,” Abdurrahim said.

He added that the government is gradually changing its approach from top-down to bottom-up and engage in public consultation to better accommodate local needs and aspiration, and officials are also giving other livelihood options to locals who, due to changing circumstances, have become unemployed.  Abdurrahim cautioned that the policies must be specific and targeted so that they are what the people really need.

Slow pace of marine rehabilitation

Another expert expressed similar sentiment that Indonesia’s massive MPA still fails to deliver satisfactory result, especially in protecting biodiversity.

The dean of the Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Science at Bogor Agricultural University (IPB), Dr. Ir. Fredinan Yulianda, M.Sc., argued that with a protected area that big, ideally, the country should now be enjoying a healthy and abundant marine life that can adequately provide livelihood and support the country’s food security. Instead, the rehabilitation progress is relatively slow, with studies still showing a big percentage of coral reefs in poor condition.

“The damage is alarming; almost 70 percent of our coral reefs are not in good condition. If the conservation works, at least 50 percent of coral coverage are in excellent condition.”

Yulianda added that one aspect that continues to challenge an optimum development and management of the MPA is the prevailing regulations.  He questioned whether the authority is really committed to the conservation effort or just going through the motion to achieve KPI, citing the examples that some parts of the MPA are poorly delineated and not backed by rigorous scientific research, and the limited allocated budget relative to the size of conservation.

He also mentioned that there is unequaled allocation too, giving the example of capture fishery, which is given a higher budget because there is an element of production but this criterion is against the principle of conservation.

The marine resource expert also criticized the over-emphasis on economy when the government maps out the protected area.  He explained that decision makers often lack a deep understanding of conservation principles and thus they tend to prioritize the economy, which may subsequently “reduce and degrade” their commitment to conservation.

Yulianda also warned against overly using the MPA for big businesses without taking into account the livelihood of the locals, in the light that the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries has started deliberation regarding the designating of MPA’s core zones for national strategic projects.  If not well thought out and controlled properly, big industries like tourism and capture fishery may eventually damage the environment and leave the local fishing community out of a job.

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