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Published: Monday July 7, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday July 7, 2014 MYT 11:25:05 AM

Bahoi: A marine reserve that works

Bahoi is proof that small, community-managed marine sanctuaries have a better chance of success.

THE people of Bahoi, a village that hugs the coastline of north Sulawesi in Indonesia, live off the richness of the sea. They mostly fish for a living, so a healthy ocean is essential if they are to support themselves.

Seeds of mangrove trees. Stick these into the mud and they will grow into new trees.
Seedlings of mangrove trees. Stick these into the mud and they will grow into new trees. – Photo Omega

To protect their livelihood and ensure that the sea will continue to provide for future generations, the people of the village that is a two-hour drive from the provincial capital city of Manado, have set up an 8ha marine protected area (MPA) with the help of local conservation groups Yapeka and Celebio.

No fishing or collecting of marine animals is allowed in this reserve off the coastline, and the effect of this protection is obvious during an afternoon of snorkelling: within the sanctuary is a thriving reef filled with myriad species of hard and soft corals, fish and other invertebrates. In the adjacent area that is unprotected, the reef is degraded.

Yapeka started working with Bahoi villagers to create the MPA in 2008. Its director of coasts and research, Akbar Digdo, says the project ended last year but was renewed after support came in from French conservation group GoodPlanet Foundation and watchmaker Omega.

The three-year collaboration under the foundation’s “Time for the Planet” project kicked off last December with these aims: to strengthen the resilience of the marine biodiversity; preserve local economic activities; and empower the local community in conservation efforts. Omega supports the project financially through proceeds from the sale of the Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M GoodPlanet GMT wristwatches.

Marine refuge: The tangled roots of mangrove trees shelter juvenile fish and protect coastlines from strong waves. - IAN SCHEMPER/Omega
Marine refuge: The tangled roots of mangrove trees shelter juvenile fish and protect coastlines from strong waves. – Photo IAN SCHEMPER/Omega

Akbar says the creation of the marine sanctuary is just one aspect of the project. “The plan is to expand the protected areas to cover mangroves and seagrass beds as there is connectivity between the three ecosystems ... the health of one will affect the others,” explains the marine biologist.

Cédric Javanaud, ocean programme manager at GoodPlanet, says the three habitats are threatened by over-exploitation of resources through activities such as over-fishing, fish bombing and cyanide fisheries which destroy coral reefs, as well as felling of mangroves for aquaculture, firewood and building materials. Sedimentation originating from coastal erosion has also smothered seagrass meadows.

Sulawesi sits within the Coral Triangle, the 100,000sq km of sea bordered by Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste, that possesses 34% of the world’s coral reefs, and is the underwater equivalent of the Amazon, home to more marine species than anywhere else on Earth.

“North Sulawesi possesses one of the richest ecosystems on the planet but 40% of corals in the region has been destroyed, 40% of the mangroves has disappeared. By protecting these important ecosystems, we can improve their function as a breeding ground for fish and as a ‘fish bank’ which supplies local fisheries,” says Javanaud.

Mangrove seedlings are planted to restore degraded forests.
Mangrove seedlings are planted to restore degraded forests. – Photo Omega

Important habitats

From my boat, I saw mangrove seedlings growing in neat rows in the clear water. Measuring about half a metre high, they had been planted by the villagers some six months earlier. Bahoi villagers have in the past, cleared the mangroves to build aquaculture ponds and cut the trees for firewood and timber. Now, they understand that they have to nurture these trees if they are to enjoy the various services provided by them.

These coastal forests not only harbour abundant fauna, they are nurseries for marine life, offer shoreline protection and provide materials such as timber, tannin and fibre. And like terrestrial forests, mangrove forests have the ability to store carbon; the capacity amounts to some six tonnes of carbon per hectare per year, according to Javanaud.

Seagrass beds, underwater meadows that can be found between mangrove forests and coral reefs, are an equally important and diverse marine ecosystem. They are reserves of biodiversity, harbouring shellfish, sea worms, sea urchins, starfish, crabs and also particularly vulnerable species like seahorses.

Species like dugongs, manatees and turtles feed on marine grasses. Seagrass beds also provide nursery grounds for many species. They are deemed as “ecosystem engineers” – their roots stabilise the seabed, protecting it from erosion, and they can absorb pollutants, thus preventing pollution in coastal areas.

Seagrass beds are also capable of storing carbon – some 80,000 tonnes per sq km – mostly in the soil around the blades of grass.

Coral reefs are one of the most complex ecosystems on the planet. - IAN SCHEMPER/Omega(pls do not change orientation of pix)
Coral reefs are one of the most complex ecosystems on the planet. – Photo Omega

Coral reefs are oases of life. Along with equatorial forests, they comprise the richest and most complex ecosystems on the planet. Although they occupy less than 0.1% of the aquatic environment, they are home to between one and nine million species. Every fishery depends on coral reefs.

Javanaud says by preserving mangrove forests, seagrass beds and coral reefs, fish stocks in the area will be secured.

“These three are the most emblematic ecosystems of the ocean. They are the backbone of the abundant life in this region’s seas. This biodiversity is important not just for the ocean but also for the people who depend on these natural resources. These three ecosystems are very connected. A healthy ecosystem will guarantee the health of the others.”

Apart from the project in Bahoi, GoodPlanet and Omega are also supporting another scheme at Tanakeke Island in south Sulawesi. Following the aquaculture boom of the 1990s, the island lost over 70% of its mangroves.

Today, 80% of the ponds have been abandoned, threatening local subsistence activities. There, GoodPlanet is supporting local NGOs in a project to convert 100ha of abandoned aquaculture ponds into mangroves. To diversify their livelihood, the villagers are also encouraged to farm seaweed.

Seagrass beds provide refuge for various marine life, including this starfish.
Seagrass beds provide refuge for various marine life, including this starfish. – Photo TAN CHENG LI/The Star

Model MPA

To ensure that the project in Bahoi succeeds, a “bottom up” approach is taken – the conservation effort is led by the community rather than NGOs and the government forcing their plans on the people.

“We make sure that the villagers are involved,” explains Akbar. “There are discussions and they decide how big an area to protect and where. They also do the monitoring. When they see intruders in the MPA, they ask them to leave.”

The result of the self-enforcement is a decline in destructive fishing methods such as those which rely on explosives and cyanide. In a survey among 25 villagers in 2010, 14 attested to higher fish catch compared with five years earlier, and 15 said the variety of fish had increased.

Akbar says the villagers will support the conservation effort if they can see the benefits for themselves. “The villagers say there are more fish in the sea. There was no tourism here previously but now, there are five homestays, and a dive centre run by the community.”

To reduce the felling of mangroves for firewood, the villagers are encouraged to switch to coconut shell briquettes. They were taught how to make this fuel – the shells are baked, ground into powder, then mixed with tapioca flour and cut into discs. The briquettes burn slower and longer, thereby saving fuel and avoiding smoky emissions. “We cannot just tell them to not cut the mangroves. So we proposed coconut charcoal to them as an alternative,” says Javanaud.

Yapeka director of coasts and research, Akbar Digdo, works closely with Bahoi villagers to set up a marine protected area.
Yapeka director of coasts and research, Akbar Digdo, works closely with Bahoi villagers to set up a marine protected area. – Photo TAN CHENG LI/The Star

The Bahoi marine sanctuary is the most successful in northern Sulawesi to date due to the efforts of the NGOs. MPAs were also set up in other villages but all have collapsed due to poor support after the earlier conservation programme under the government and another NGO ended.

Akbar says the plan is to emulate the Bahoi experience in the other villages of Talise, Lihunu, Serei, Kinabuhutan and Kahuku to create a network of MPAs managed by the local communities. All in, the conservation effort will benefit a total of 9,000 villagers.

“Creating small, community-managed MPAs is more practical and viable,” says Akbar. “It is easier to protect a small area of the ocean that fronts the village, then a vast area. Yes, you want to conserve but you must also ensure daily needs are met, and no one knows how to do this better than the people themselves.”

Related story:

Yann Arthus-Bertrand: Spreading green fervour

Tags / Keywords: Environment, Environment, marine protected area, Bahoi, Sulawesi, ocean, marine, Omega, GoodPlanet, mangroves, seagrass, coral reef

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