Restoring Indonesia’s coral reefs

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Grace Easteria

Coral Reef’s Background

Often dubbed the ‘coral triangle’, Indonesia is one of the centers for coral reef diversity. However, the country’s coral reefs are also among the world’s most threatened – from both anthropogenic activities and natural phenomena. The proportion of coral reefs in decline in Indonesia has increased from 10% to 50% in the last 50 years. Despite rehabilitation efforts initiated by the World Bank’s Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management Program (COREMAP), coral coverage still falls under the targeted 5% (Marshall et al. 2009). The failure to increase coral coverage is attributed to various obstacles, ranging from tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, marine pollution, unsustainable tourism to global warming.

Photo by Marek Okon on Unsplash.com

 

The degradation of coral reefs due to climate change is unavoidable and it also estimated that by 2030-2040 they will reach 450 parts per million (ppm), which has a dire outlook for the health of the coral reefs. However, we can still protect and restore existing ecosystems and reduce the intensity of degradation depending on the actions we take to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions. A lack of immediate action to mitigate and adapt to climate change will ultimately lead to catastrophic consequences – unless governments and communities act now. For instance, coral bleaching events – such as that which occurred on a widespread scale in 2013 – could become a regular phenomenon, especially in El Niño years, as a result of climate change. By 2030, massive coral bleaching in shallow water areas could occur on a yearly basis (Marshall et al. 2009). Reducing carbon emissions and advancing sequestration initiatives will help limit the main driver of ocean acidification. Ocean acidification affects the growth of almost all calcified saltwater organisms. For instance, it affects the ability for shellfish to grow healthy shellfish, impacting those who like to eat shellfish and the job security for the shellfish farmers. These phenomena will be further aggravated by the pressure of rising temperatures, sea-level rise, increasing cyclone storms, coral disease, water pollution and erosion.

 

In order to save coral reefs, we need to conserve and protect them and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  Countries have defined their  national targets to address climate change as part of their commitment to the Paris Agreement, and more commitment for action is needed by governments, companies, and communities. Moreover, at a local level, environmental managers and people who care for coral reefs have a responsibility to increase local community awareness, encourage the reduction of carbon emissions in various circles, and maximize ecosystem resilience by reducing pressures on the environment.

 

One important measure to minimize anthropogenic threats to coral reefs (such as destructive fishing, water pollution, etc.) is the establishment and expansion of conservation areas. In Indonesia, there are about  27,502,019.16 hectares (106,186 square miles) of land- and water-based conservation areas. One of these areas is the Indonesian National Park, which comprises around ​​16,067,212.05 hectares (62,036 square miles). Unfortunately, half of this conservation area continues to suffer from damage caused by both natural disasters and illegal human activities. Therefore, it is necessary to restore the ecosystem by supporting the government’s restoration efforts in line with its purpose of effective conservation area management.

 

The Thousand Islands Marine National Park is a much smaller, but extremely ecologically important, conservation area, which sits north of the island of Java. It encompasses a range of small island and shallow water ecosystems, including  fringing coral reefs, mangroves  and seagrass meadows. The activities of the Thousand Islands’ local communities, which mainly reside within the park, directly and indirectly impact upon the national park’s sustainability, as do those of the outsiders who also use the area’s natural resources. Unfortunately, improper use of coastal resources can negatively affect conservation and restoration processes.

 

CarbonEthics and Our Project as Restoration Steward

We are CarbonEthics, a not-for-profit organization that aims to decelerate the climate crisis through climate education and blue carbon ecosystem conservation. We strongly believe in a community-based conservation model – placing Indonesian coastal communities at the heart of our conservation work. When you conserve with CarbonEthics, you are not only creating positive environmental change, you are advancing social impact by directly enhancing the livelihoods of our coastal community partners. Click here to find out more about us.

 

Our objective for this initiative is to restore and repair coral reefs that have either been damaged naturally or as a result of human activities. Coral reefs provide greatly significant coastal protection for the Thousand Islands’ local communities. They act as barriers against waves to preserve coastal sedimentation rates, prevent coastal abrasion, delay tidal currents and seawater intrusion, and protect coastal areas from high waves. Coral reefs also function as fish nurseries feeding and spawning grounds, as well as important fishing sites. Restoring coral reefs will not only provide positive ecological impacts, but will also offer socio-economic impacts such as community income sources through restoration projects and tourism activities. Through the project, we will work to boost the potential of sustainable marine tourism in the Thousand Islands. We also aim to provide education to tourists and the public regarding coral-friendly activities. Coral reef restoration can ultimately help local people who rely on tourism to procure a sustainable income source – especially in light of the recent pandemic.

 

From Thousand Islands residents to small-scale fisherpeople to tourists, most people in the region have been affected by the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Thousand Island National Park Center, the pandemic impacted up to 96.4% on natural tour guides, 88.2% on the consumption service business, 100% on the accommodation sector, 90.9% on transportation services, and 100% on tour operators. Fortunately, even under these poor conditions, we are still able to help the local farmers economically through our coral reef, seagrass and mangrove planting and monitoring program. Through our commitment to climate change mitigation, we believe that this restoration project is a powerful strategy to not only achieve sustainable incomes for coastal communities, but to also develop resilience against the future impacts of climate change.

 

Our project will start in January 2021 and will be conducted over the next five years. Our proposed activities are as follows:

 

Coral reef transplantation/rehabilitation and community training

The coral reef transplantation/rehabilitation program aims to restore and repair the coral reef cover that has been damaged by natural causes and human activities. The main target is to plant 252 rock piles and 10 coral structures by 2021. Coral transplantation projects include procuring rock piles and coral structures, as well as training farmers or volunteers to plant and monitor coral reefs. The coral genus that we plant is Acropora sp., and includes Acropora gomezi, Acropora aspera, Acropora formosa, Acropora teres, Acropora intermedia, and Acropora loisetteae. During previous transplantations, we collaborated with Smiling Coral, a local foundation focused on coral reef conservation and tourism. In the upcoming project, we will also invite volunteers to join our planting activities. After planting, we monitor the corals each month to measure the height, diameter, overall condition of the corals and the number of dead or living polyps. We also clean the corals from growth-inhibiting algae. The coral reef monitoring process can be observed digitally.

 

Figure 1. Coral reef transplantation

 

The main aim of the community training program is to educate local people about the importance of coral reef restoration, and to build farmers’ capacity in this kind of work. We will do this through the following activities: 

  1. carry out research to build the science-based foundation on causes/drivers of coral degradation; 
  2. schedule a meeting or other stakeholder engagement approach for capacity building and awareness-raising about the ecological and social benefits of coral reefs, as well as harmful activities that should be avoided; and
  3. train farmers on how to monitor coral reef health, and improve operational standards of planting and monitoring coral reefs based on scientific methods.  
  4. To support the sustainability of coral reef conservation, national and international collaboration is crucial. Accordingly, we will work to involve volunteers (students, young researchers, etc.) who are interested in and committed to planting coral reefs and other social activities.

 

Coral Reef Conservation Campaign

Globally, the destruction rate in coastal ecosystems can be up to four times faster than that in terrestrial forests. Dramatic increases in coastal tourism in recent years have caused considerable harm to these ecosystems’ resources. Mass tourism is a major threat to coral reef ecosystems, largely due to most tourists’ lack of knowledge about the fragility of coral reef ecosystems and how to swim near them without damaging them. In an effort to raise awareness and commitment on restoring and conserving coral reefs, we will actively conduct educational campaigns through our social media and/or through collaborative events with other organizations and institutions.

 

 

Ecotourism

The Thousand Islands is one of the destinations that was designated as a National Tourism Strategic Area by the Indonesian government in 2018. Its potential to be a marine tourism area mainly stems from its abundant natural resources and strategic location, given its ts proximity to the capital city, Jakarta.

 

The rapid development of tourism in recent years has led to a shift in revenue sources for residents, who formerly relied more on primary-sector opportunities such as agriculture and fisheries. The shift is evident in the growing number of tourism facilities in the area, such as homestays and restaurants. However, apart from having a positive impact on people’s welfare, the development of tourism also has the potential for environmental destruction. Irresponsible tourism coupled with a lack of proper waste management essentially destroys coral reefs and accumulates garbage. If current trends continue, the Thousand Islands’ tourism sector will not prove to be sustainable. It’s therefore critical to manage the area’s tourism offerings and ensure that they are ecologically, socially, and economically sustainable.

 

As such, another key activity within our project will be to implement ecotourism activities and build community groups’ capacity in this area. The implementation of ecotourism activities not only serves the welfare of local communities and environmental conservation in the Thousand Islands, but also benefits tourists through education on the importance of coral reefs. Ecotourism also encourages the implementation of tourism that involves local communities and facilitates meaningful  interactions. Implementing more eco-friendly tourism across the board will require synergy between stakeholders at central and  regional levels of government; local tourism awareness groups called pokdarwis; tourism businesses; and local communities. We will also conduct ecotourism socialization for community groups, namely pokdarwis, to help ensure that the ecotourism activities carried out can support the sustainability of coastal resources.

 

 

Climate Change Education

 

Global warming is a major issue that threatens the lives of coastal communities – especially those that live on small islands. Global warming impacts, such as sea-level rise, uncertain weather, increased sea-surface temperature, and uncertain tidal cycles, negatively affect people’s livelihoods and put coastal communities’ survival in jeopardy. Due to the high urgency of climate change mitigation, we will conduct training and socialization on climate change resilience for local communities (such as to teachers, schools and other local stakeholders), in an effort to better prepare them for the impacts of climate change. Our program’s overall objective is to enhance community awareness about climate change’s impact on coral reefs – and how to mitigate this.

Figure 4. Climate Change Education

 

The aforementioned activities will hopefully allow us to build an effective coral reef conservation management movement that contributes to the government’s broader conservation efforts, supports its work to cut emissions as part of the Paris Agreement and provides economic benefits and/or alternative livelihoods for the people of the Thousand Islands.

 

Visit our website at CarbonEthics.org and follow our social media accounts on Instagram, Youtube and LinkedIn for more information on our activities and conservation efforts.

 

All data  were taken from,

Marshall J, Reid C, Logan D, Kleine D. 2009. Coral Reef and Climate Change: the guide for education and awareness. CoralWatch, Brisbane.

Grace Easteria

Coral Reef Restoration Project in a Thousand Island

Coral reef rehabilitation in Thousand Island aims to restore coral reef cover that has been damaged as a result of human activities. Seeing that the Thousand Islands are coral islands, coral reefs are greatly significant in the coastal protection of the local community. Besides its ecological benefit, this project also provides income through restoration projects and tourism activities and helps boost up the potential of marine tourism in the Thousand Islands which was previously damaged by over 60%.

Instagram: @geasteria
Twitter: @geasteria
Want to connect with Grace? Write to restorationstewards@gmail.com

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Supporting partners

Under the banner of Generation Restoration, the Youth in Landscapes Initiative (YIL) and the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) launched the Restoration Stewards program in 2020 to support and highlight the work of six young restoration practitioners and their teams, dubbed ‘Restoration Stewards’. The year-long program provides funding, mentorship, and training to deepen the impact of these projects.
In 2021, the Restoration Stewards and their teams will be supported to further develop their project and will become ambassadors at both global and local levels. Globally, the Restoration Stewards will share their journey in a series of vlogs and blogs documenting their stories of inspiration and challenges. Locally, they will spark a restoration movement, creating pathways to connect, share, learn, and act for more sustainable landscapes.