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Coral Reefs and Fisheries Are Becoming a New Front In the Fight Against Poverty

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June 4, 2004—With their missing limbs, some of the young men in the coastal communities on the islands of eastern Indonesia look more like casualties of war than fishermen.

Pawan Patil, a senior economist with the World Bank, sees them all too often as he travels the region with his work. These men, many of them barely more than boys, are the ones who were too slow letting go of the homemade bombs that the locals drop into the water to catch fish.

Blast fishing – which involves throwing bombs into the water and literally exploding the fish to the surface – has been a popular practice in the region for many years. It allows fishermen to quickly catch a large number of fish, many of which are still intact enough to take to market.

But the consequences of the bombs – usually bottles or coconut shells stuffed with fertilizer and a crude wick - reach further than the tragic loss of limbs for young men. Their widespread use is devastating coral reefs by blowing large craters in the sea floor and endangering the fisheries because of the reefs’ crucial role in fish breeding.

Blast fishing is also endangering the most important food source in the area and a vital source of income for the region’s mostly poor inhabitants.

Patil is the task manager for the world’s largest coral reef rehabilitation project – the Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management Program Phase II – which aims to protect some of the world’s most valuable coral outcrops and enhance the livelihoods of some of the region’s poorest communities.

Patil says the project fits squarely with the Bank’s work – fighting poverty in developing countries and creating sustainable incomes, while at the same time protecting the environment.

“Millions of poor people fish,” he says. “That is why this project is so important because poor communities depend on small scale fisheries completely for their livelihoods.”

With nearly 10,000 coastal communities in Indonesia dependent on fishing for a large part of their income, Patil says the project is important in terms of poverty reduction.

The project involves $56.2 million of World Bank loans, $7.5 million from the Global Environment Fund and $10.9 million from the Indonesian Government.

It has strong backing from the Indonesian Government and represents the first time any developing country has initiated a long-term program to build a national platform for sustainable management of coral reefs based on adaptive learning.

It also represents the first effort by a government to answer the call of the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the May 2003 G8 meetings in Evian, France, which concluded that the establishment of ecosystem networks of marine protected areas around the world by 2012 was a global priority.

Expanding Lessons Learned
Patil says a key innovation of the project is putting local communities at the center of coral reef ecosystem management. They are involved in key decisions and have incentives to feel responsible for the fishery. They must also know that they can get the help they need from local and national governments to legally enforce their management decisions.

He says this collaborative management technique has the potential to be used and expanded in many communities around the world.

The project team learned some valuable lessons from phase one of the project which involved a pilot program in 20 villages on the eastern Indonesian islands of South Sulawesi and Papua.

“The initial phase involved extensive enforcement of the reefs, but found that without the support of local communities, it was not effective.”

But when communities were given legally enforceable rights to manage their fishery and local government assistance to police their rules, support increased dramatically.

Managing the Message
Raising public awareness of the consequences of environmentally unsustainable practices – such as the blast fishing -- is also crucial and is a key part of the ongoing work of the project.

“Many people don’t understand the linkages between the reefs and the fisheries. They don’t understand that the reefs are the spawning grounds for fish,” says Patil. “We tell the communities that if there are no reefs, there are no fish.”

Initially, the program targeted primary and secondary school students, giving the schools glossy colored books that illustrate the important linkages between reefs and fish production.

“We believe young people are very important.” Lessons learned at school are passed to their parents and the young people represented the next generation of fishermen.

The first phase of the public awareness campaign was very successful in the pilot communities, says Patil. An assessment of community knowledge of the linkages between reefs and fisheries showed that public awareness of the crucial role played by reefs rose from 15 percent to 75 percent after the campaigns. And, the incidence of bomb fishing is starting to decrease as the awareness of the ramifications of the practice become more widely known.

The next phase of the project seeks to broaden community awareness through campaigns on television, newspapers and radio as well as extensive community education. The strategy includes distributing televisions and DVDs players to communities to ensure access to educational programs on the linkages between fisheries and reefs.

Moving Forward: Sustainable Solutions
The coral project is also exploring other ways of making the area’s fisheries sustainable. Funding is being examined to facilitate buyouts to reduce the size of the fishing fleet in the area, establishing no-take zones or periods when fish can’t be caught such as around full moons.

In addition, ways to increase the income of local fishers and link them to new markets in the private sector are being examined. The hope is that it will create an economic incentive for them to move away from more destructive and less lucrative fishing practices.

The Indonesian Government also set up an institutional framework for long-term coral reef management. A national coordination unit that is a multi-agency body housed in the Ministry for Marine Affairs and Fisheries will handle the overall country effort to sustain its coral reefs.

At the district level, a new institution called the Coastal Community Empowerment Board, comprising representatives from local government, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and communities has been established. It is charged with ensuring the transparent use of funds coming into the district from any source for the purpose of assisting local communities.

“We’ve now been able to demonstrate through analytical and advisory services that we can help the government find the way forward to manage the fisheries resource,” Patil says.

“Indonesia is leading the way on this.”

Related Links:
New Program Gives Indonesian Communities Rights To Manage Critical Coral Reefs
 


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