“The sea is an open space which can be used to fulfill one’s livelihood; however, a well-managed marine habitat can improve the livelihoods and futures of its coastal communities. It is time to develop marine conservation areas and sustainable fishery in Maluku so that it may become a magnet for marine tourism in Indonesia “Abdul Haris, age 51, head of the Marine Spatial Planing, Marine and Fisheries Office Maluku Province
I am optimistic that Maluku’s conservation areas will one day become a marine attraction for domestic and foreign tourists. As awareness and curiosity of Maluku’s vibrancy grow through various promotions, tourists may enjoy the culture, dishes, and beauty traditional of Maluku and can experience the pristine ocean life through activities such as diving, fishing or even sunbathing. While this may seem like pure fantasy, I consider conservation areas as a prime tourist attraction in the province of Maluku and believe in a five to ten year period it may not be much different to the ones in I studied in California during a trip to the United States in February of 2019.
In California, I noticed how the marine conservation area I investigated was integrated into people’s lives with the inclusion of trade centers, recreational and marine animal protection areas, as well as vehicle education for children so they may learn to love the environment from an early age. Studying one of the best marine conservation areas in America was inspiring and was a valuable learning experience which taught me how to manage conservation areas.
The marine conservation area in Maluku is remote with limited transportation and minimal facilities. Its community does not know how to utilize the area as a tourist attraction yet considering the few numbers of tourists. Currently, the conservation area in Maluku is still in the initiation, identification, reservation, and establishment stages with several processes still needed to arrive at the management stage.
The main challenge is changing the mindset of the community, as many people still lack the correct understanding of the nature of marine conservation areas. The community believes that the area should not be disrupted or managed, and they worry setting a conservation area means their livelihood and lifestyle will be limited.
This skewed understanding, however, is understandable when considering their previous experience with the management of a terrestrial conservation area which enclosed the region so that people could no longer collect their crops. The DKP, in collaboration with the tourism agency, attempted to approach and carry out various socialization efforts to the community, including indigenous people, about the benefits of the existence of a marine conservation area.
In contrast to terrestrial regions, marine conservation areas can be greatly developed so they may become food sources, protecting fish populations, and may even become highly-valued ecotourism locations, provided that the sea and biodiversity present are well-maintained.
To illustrate the advantages a conservation area would bring, I gave the example of how easy fishing used to be. A hook, net, and boat not far from shore were all that was necessary to catch fish. This was five years ago. Now, people are having difficulty finding fish and are forced to take their boats further out to avoid returning empty handed. In the next ten years, the use of new outboard engines may even become necessary to fish.
By using such examples, we began changing their mindset not to be afraid of conservation areas as they are beneficial to the welfare of their community and future generations to a great extent. These areas support their economic interests and food security, especially coastal fishermen in the Province of Maluku.
The community has even become excited with the individuals in some regions initiating the formation of marine conservation areas themselves. Throughout this process, the government regularly involves the community, listening to their input through public consultation activities in the identification stage to support the implementation of conservation areas. One of the purposes of public consultation is to minimize social conflicts between communities while utilizing natural resources in marine conservation areas.
Having worked as a civil servant for the Maritime and Fisheries Department (DKP) in the Province of Maluku for 25 years, I noticed that there were still many targets, especially to achieve the Marine Spatial Planning target. Because of this, we engage and seek support of various parties, including the USAID SEA Project.
The DPK in Maluku has been collaborating with the USAID SEA Project since 2016 in matters regarding marine planning, as well as maximizing efforts to maintain and utilize marine conservation areas. Last May, I represented the DKP of Maluku, overseeing the activities of a small-scale public-private partnership and ecotourism workshop at the provincial level, organized by the USAID SEA Project in Ambon. The workshop attempts to align stakeholders to support marine conservation area management (MPA), including the terms of financing. As seen in California, this maritime ecotourism commercial activity has great potential to become an alternative source of financing for MPA management.
The Indonesian government aims to establish and manage a marine conservation area of 20 million ha in 2020 and the Maluku Provincial Government contributes its 1 million hectares of marine conservation areas. Until now we have initiated nine marine conservation areas with a total area of 1,417,901.22 hectares, which mean we have exceeded our commitment of 1 million hectares.
One of the significant challenges faced by stakeholders and managers is creating a balanced design and management strategy for MPAs between conservation and economic use to improve community welfare. The DKP of Maluku Province in 2019 aims to obtain a Reserve Decree from the Governor for all conservation areas and ready to be processed to establishment stage by the Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. Currently, three conservation areas have been reserved: Lease, Rhun, and Koon.
The most valuable lesson I learned during my time in America is the importance of good collaboration between stakeholders related to the management of the MPA, especially in terms of financing. America also implements independent oversight institutions which oversee the use of these conservation areas; each violation or crime will be subject to sanctions. For example, areas for recreational fishing and commercial fishing are separate and fishery companies that fish in recreational areas or damage conservation areas will be directly subject to sanction by supervisors. In Indonesia supervision of such conservation areas is still weak from both the government and community, as well as being less integrated. The introduction of such oversight institutions may greatly benefit marine conservation in Maluku and Indonesia as a whole.