Coral Reef Fisheries:
Introduction and Background
Indonesia's coral reef fisheries are in crisis due to destructive over-harvesting by bombs and poisons. President Megawati Sukarno Putri said at the International Coral Reef Symposium in October 2000 in Bali that around 94% of Indonesia's coral reefs were already severely damaged. The large-scale destruction of coral habitat has made recovery of fish populations impossible until damaged coral reef areas are restored. Recent work in Pemuteran, Bali has shown that coral reefs can be quickly restored and fish populations greatly increased using new methods that speed up the growth of corals, oysters, abalone, and clams, and create new habitat for fishes, crabs, octopus and other forms of sea life. These projects should be greatly expanded to create coral reef nurseries to protect species from extinction from global climate change, to create ecotourism attractions, and to restore Indonesia's coral reef fisheries by applying these methods in fishing villages throughout the islands, allowing fishermen to become sea farmers instead of sea hunters. Much of this can be achieved using untapped solar and tidal energy sources.
Sustainable eco-tourism requires the protection of natural beauty, yet conservation often conflicts with traditional users of those habitats, for example when fish become more valuable when they can be seen again and again by divers and snorkelers, "paying" for themselves many times over, versus their value as a single meal. In Pemuteran, hotels, dive shops, village fisher folk, scientists, and conservationists have united in a project to protect and restore coral reefs and increase fisheries resources for both tourism and fisheries. The project uses the patented electrical Biorock technology of Hilbertz and Goreau to increase coral growth rates and increase the densities of reef fish by providing them with suitable natural habitat.
Fishermen can become more productive by growing high value marine species by "farming" their reef habitats than they would be if they continue to use destructive methods to hunt out the last wild fishes. The techniques needed are simple and easily taught. By training fishermen to grow coral reefs instead of destroying them, destroyed habitat can be restored, and Indonesia's priceless underwater natural heritage can be preserved, and even increased as damaged areas are restored back to productive reefs. This will require fishermen learning new skills, funding for sustainable energy production, investment in fisheries in the form of micro-credit loans to fishermen organized in cooperatives to effectively manage their fisheries resources. Indonesia's coral reefs are the richest in the world, but only action now can save them for future generations and allow their sustainable use for both fisheries and tourism.
Pemuteran lies in the northwest of Bali. The picturesque setting is a small fishing village nestled between the Bali mountains and the sweeping blue arc of Pemuteran Bay, with spectacular views of 5 of Java's towering volcanoes to the west. Menjangan Island, famous for its diving and nature treks, is only 15 minutes away. Because Pemuteran is in the shadow of the mountains during the rainy season, it gets less rainfall. As it is too dry for rice cultivation, people traditionally lived from the sea. Pemuteran has the largest area of shallow coral reefs in Bali that are easily accessible, because the area is calm and free from the strong currents and waves along most other parts of the island. This resulted in spectacular coral reef growth close to land, where it could easily be seen. Since the area was in the furthest corner of the island from the main tourist centers, it was quiet and unspoiled. Hotels and dive shops were pioneered by Agung Prana and Chris Brown respectively, who worked closely with the village to protect the area. Pemuteran village declared that the reefs in front of the beach where most hotels were located would be a Protected No-Fishing Zone, to be used for eco-tourism. As a result other hotels and dive shops followed, making earnings from tourism a major contributor to the local economy, in a region where there had previously been few cash-earning jobs.
Once one of the poorest areas in Bali, over the years increasing income from eco-tourism had positive effects on the life style and health of local villagers. It became clear to all that the continued protection and restoration of marine resources was directly linked to the increased improvement of the life and health of the villagers of Pemuteran. One of the earliest goals of the hotels and dive shops was to set limits on development to avoid the degradation of the environment often seen in other tourist areas. To ensure that the conservation efforts continued, it became apparent that it was necessary to have strong education, protection and regeneration programs for all marine resources, generating increased income for the village from increased catches and tourism, motivating their protection and management efforts.
Pemuteran formerly had the richest reef fisheries in Bali. The large sheltered bay was surrounded by reefs teeming with fish. The natural population increase was greatly augmented by migration of fishermen from Java and Madura, where inshore fisheries had been wiped out by destructive over-exploitation. Destructive methods, like use of bombs and cyanide followed their use in other islands, and steadily spread until most of the reefs had been destroyed. The offshore bank reefs that had been dense thickets of coral packed with swarms of fishes, were turned into piles of broken rubble, nearly barren of fish. Consequently fisheries has undergone a catastrophic decline. Fishermen instituted a ban on use of bombs and cyanide in the reefs of Pemuteran Bay in order to preserve what was left of their resource. Unfortunately their vigilance in enforcing it lapsed during the economic shock of 1998, and bombers and cyanide fishermen invaded the area again, most apparently from neighboring villages, Madura, or Java. The village then re-instituted a ban on bombing and cyanide, but much damage had been done. Fishermen now recognize that fisheries will not recover until the coral reef habitat they need is restored. They are eager to learn how to do so.
Videos by Rani E. Morrow-Wuigk taken over the past eight years clearly show the changes in the reef, from one lushly covered with corals and bursting with fish, to barren rubble virtually devoid of fish. These areas were formerly the best diving and fishing areas, and they are still intensively fished even though a day of fishing may yield no more than a handful of fish. Fish populations will only be able to build up again when their coral reef habitat is restored, and they are harvested sustainably by the fishermen. Many village fishermen realize they must decide which types of fishing methods are acceptable in different areas, and restrict entry, if they are to continue fishing. The current patrol system of coastal security being used by the Pemuteran fishermen in cooperation with business owners is the first of its kind in Indonesia and has had some notable success in stopping the bombing and reducing the cyanide fishing. In the last year dolphins and dugongs have returned to the area, with the immediate tourist benefit of sunrise dolphin watching tours now being offered by the village. Schooling tuna are also being sighted as well as higher populations of schooling and reef fish on the bank reefs making snorkeling and diving much more exciting. New coral growth can be seen everywhere, indicating that the marine ecosystem is healthier than in many years.
All these changes are the result of the educational program started several years ago encouraging the fishermen to take ownership of their own reefs and marine resources. This education was done through the coral restoration project together with the development of the security program. Public entertainment dramas with this environmental message were presented so all the community could begin to understand the importance of marine conservation. All snorkeling income is reserved solely for the village and local hotels and dive shops make monthly contributions to ensure all programs are sufficiently financed. A shop on the beach for selling handicrafts was built by donation and is run by the village.
Reef Restoration Projects
In Pemuteran, scientists, conservationists, hotels, dive shops, fishermen, and villages have gotten together to build coral nurseries on which corals grow faster than normal, and around which fish school. To repopulate the area as quickly as possible with coral and fish, coral nurseries were built using the Electrolytic Mineral Accretion Technology (Biorockô) of Hilbertz and Goreau. Corals grown on mineral accretion are exceptionally brightly colored and rapidly growing, support dense fish populations, and are more resistant to all environmental stresses except bombs and poisons. This novel technology uses electricity to "grow" limestone rock on steel frames and increase growth rates of corals and other reef organisms. Corals on the mineral accretion structures, because of their higher growth rate and healthier metabolism, will reproduce sooner and more, and so play a key role in restocking the surrounding reefs. Nurseries can be built in any size or shape, and can be designed specifically for fish of many kinds, lobsters, clams, oysters, abalone, etc. Energy for such projects can be provided in many locations using renewable local sunlight or ocean currents.
The Karang Lesteri Project began in June 2000, when Tom Goreau and Wolf Hilbertz of the Global Coral Reef Alliance, a non-profit coral reef protection organization, working with Yos Amerta and divers from Yos Dive Shop, built the first coral nursery in front of Pondok Sari Hotel, Pemuteran. In October 2000 an international workshop on the design and construction of coral nurseries was held at the site, and three more coral nurseries were installed in front of the Sea Temple. In April 2001, 19 more coral nurseries were installed in front of Taman Sari Hotel with the assistance of Archipelago Dive Shop, and another nursery was added in front of Reef Seen Aquatics. All of these structures are located in the Pemuteran Coral Reef Protected Area. Corals transplanted onto the structures attracted high densities of fish of all types. As a result of the dense swarms of brightly colored fish in and around the coral nurseries, they have become the major focus of near shore diving and snorkeling. All corals used in the project are pieces that have been found broken on nearby reefs, and have become damaged by rolling or by falling into mud and sand. Corals that would sooner or later die have been rescued and turned into several hundred meters of extremely attractive snorkel and diving trails, which have greatly enhanced marine life in the area. Although similar projects are underway in 8 countries, including Maldives, Seychelles, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Mexico, and Panama, the projects at Pemuteran are larger than all the rest combined.
The large schools of fish of many kinds around the coral nurseries have attracted the attention of local fishermen, who must go over them every time they head out to their fishing grounds miles offshore, where they spend the day searching for the few fish in a barren wasteland. This project has made it very clear that restoring coral growth can bring the fish back, and the fishermen are eager to see the coral nurseries expanded and fish habitat to be constructed in areas nearer to their fishing grounds. They have agreed to protect the projects and to keep records of the fish caught in nearby areas as part of an experiment to improve the fisheries. They want fishermen from other areas to know what they are doing and why, and that they could be doing the same thing in their own areas.
In May 2002, 6 new fish nurseries were constructed and deployed in the Protected Area. These structures were built to create more habitat specifically for reef fish. These projects, like previous ones, have been constructed without any program funds, using small donations from local hotels, dive shops, and visitors. Word about the success of the Karang Lesteri project has spread rapidly throughout Bali, and many hotels, dive shops, and villages around the island have requested similar projects too. A large-scale reef restoration program has been proposed by the Global Coral Reef Alliance, the Indonesian Dive and Watersports Federation (Gahawisri), Bahtera Nusantara, a fisheries and conservation NGO, the Bali Tourism Board, and the Governor of Bali. These projects cannot start until funding for larger scale programs can be found and more people can be trained in the methods developed at Pemuteran. Students from Udayana University and Bogor University have begun research programs on the project. New solar powered projects are being started in the Komodo National Park and Flores, and a project powered by ocean currents is planned for Nusa Lembongan. These sites will be used to train fishermen and students in the new methods for coral reef restoration as well as building up populations of harvestable species by fishermen. It is planned to work with the Research Laboratory for Coastal Fisheries at Gondol to develop applications to growing more species that can be farmed by fishermen as alternatives of destructive over-exploitation.
Planned Future Projects
Karang Lesteri is only the first step in efforts to restore as much of the damaged reef in Indonesia as possible. Pemuteran fishermen are eager to change from hunting fish to farming them, and to secure sustainable fisheries for their children. This will be possible if the current pilot projects are greatly expanded in scale to the major fishing areas, the offshore bank reefs north of Pemuteran. Funding will be sought to build more coral nurseries in tourism areas around Bali and to train fishermen to build large solar powered and ocean current powered fish and coral nurseries as part of a long-term national coral reef fisheries restoration program. A new research and training program in coral reef restoration, mariculture, and ocean energy development could be started soon as part of a new Marine Research Center in the Biology Department and the Environmental Sciences Department at Udayana University. These programs would be operated in collaboration with researchers from Hasanuddin University in Makassar, Sulawesi, in particular with Dr. Jamaluddin Jompa and Aida Hossein, with Bogor University, and other Indonesian marine research centers. Potential sites for a laboratory research a facility have been identified at Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida. By developing large scale national coral reef restoration and mariculture programs, Indonesia can reverse the current pattern of unsustainable over-exploitation of marine resources. By restoring damaged ecosystems, preserving marine biodiversity, improving fisheries, tourism, and research and training opportunities, Indonesia can move towards a sustainable future based on renewable energy and marine fisheries.
Web addresses for more information about the Karang