Buano Island in Maluku Province and Sula Islands in North Maluku Province are both rich with marine biodiversity. Scientific surveys conducted by USAID SEA implementing partner, Coral Triangle Center (CTC), in 2017 successfully identified 407 fish species in Sula and 418 fish species in Buano. The score of Coral Fish Diversity Index (CFDI) for Buano reached 214 and for Sula reached 228, meaning that the potential for fish diversity in these two islands is actually at a good level. These indicators also show the high potential for Buano and Sula Islands for capture fisheries.
In reality, many fishers in these two islands find it difficult to catch fish to support their livelihoods. Many fishermen said that this condition was caused by unsustainable fishing practice in the past. Many fishermen only earn IDR 1-1.5 million (USD 71-107) per month, which below the average local provincial minimum wage of around IDR 2.2 million (USD 157) per month.
Buano Islands coastal community is always proud of their skills in making wooden boats and the abundant stick of reef fish around the islands. Nowadays, these prides are just a history. People has been cutting down its large trees from the forest while reef fish are scarce due to overfished, bombed and poisoned with cyanides. Over the past 20 years the health of these reefs has been declining drastically.
Take a look at the situation occurring in Kasuari Sub-village. Most of fishermen there have had trouble catching reef fish such as snapper, grouper and yellow tail for the last five years and thus decided to switch catching tuna. “How are we supposed to catch reef fish if they are hard to be found? Catching tuna requires us to go farther in the open sea and needs more petrol, but we have no other option,” said La Anwar Kaimudin, a local fisher in Kasuari, early 2019.
Meanwhile, the fishermen and coastal community in Sula Islands, have also expressed the same difficulty as their peers in Buano Islands. They noted that it is getting more difficult to catch small pelagic fish such as Julung fish (Hemiramphus spp.), which becomes their main trading commodity and food resource. They also recalled using similar local wisdom in the past to manage their fish stock, but the method has been long abandoned by the community. “In the past, there was once an agreement among residents of several villages in Sula to regulate the time and fishing method, so that the fish stock would not run out quickly. However, we have abandoned it for quite long time,” said Fadli Makian, a resident of Waisakai Village in Sula.
These conditions alarmed the community, prompting the traditional leaders of Buano Islands to take action to protect their marine resources. The Tribal Chief of Tamalene Family, Abdul Karim Tamalene, said that there was actually a customary rule to manage the land and marine natural resources in Buano – called Sasi, but currently it seems to be forgotten by the community. “To restore the Sasi, we need official regulations from the government as our primary reference for law enforcement,” added Abdul.
To revitalize this traditional resource management method, USAID SEA Project through its implementing partner CTC, facilitates to draft Sasi rules in North Buano and South Buano villages that regulates the protection of natural resources and its extraction from land and sea. CTC works collaboratively with the local leaders and a local NGO called the Community Development Participation Institute (LPPM) Maluku. Before, CTC works with local communities in Buano and Sula Islands to establish marine protected areas (MPA) with the aim to protect fisheries spawning grounds and help local fish stock recovery. This is also a major factor for CTC to help revitalize traditional resource management methods such as Sasi to strengthen local marine resource management.
Sasi means prohibiting community members to take natural resources in a particular area over a period of time. This temporal closure of fields, forests, reefs and fishing grounds practice is one of local wisdom that play important role in the preservation of the natural resources includes sea. Sasi has been embedded in the local culture and based on customary law (adat) for over 400 year. Sasi rule has experienced many changes, declined and losses in some areas.
Fishermen and coastal communities in Buano and Sula are enthusiastic about these plans, including the MPA establishment in their respective localities. In 2018, the community representatives signed official commitments supporting the MPA zoning process including the regulation of activities allowed in specific marine areas. Moreover, the community members also attended several activities conducted by CTC, such as basic MPA training and workshop, public consultation, and outreach communication, to provide them with more information about marine conservation and sustainable fisheries.
Once gazetted by the Provincial Government, Buano Islands will protect 32,964 hectares of its waters while Sula Islands MPA will cover 117,959 hectares. As for 2019, the Sula Islands MPA has been officially gazette through the issuance of Governor’s Decree No. 360 of 2018, while the similar process for Buano Islands MPA is still on going.
It is hoped that by merging traditional knowledge and scientific studies, the coastal community of Buano and Sula will see their marine resources revitalized to improve their livelihood and food security in the future.