Matthew Oldfield (


Banner photo by Matthew Oldfield (

Ever since prehistoric man first explored the archipelago that today we know as Indonesia, the incredible life that thrives on its coastlines, reefs and in the deep seas surrounding the islands, has been a vital source of sustenance for human society - providing an incredible bounty of food and valuable commodities.

As populations have soared within Indonesia however, we have begun to realise that this source of food and livelihoods is not without limit - it is finite and fragile, easily damaged by overfishing, pollution and modern-day industrial practices that place budgets and the bottom line over sustainability.​
  Exploring Indonesia today, it is easy to see that a turning point has been reached. Either we continue as we have done so for the last few decades - continue to overfish, continue to smother and poison reefs, continue to rip up coastal mangroves.

Or we take a step back and look at how best to conserve the rich marine environment and utilise its resources in a way that ensures the varied life found here has a future, along with the many people that depend on it for their food and livelihoods.

Voracious global markets have driven the fishing industry to extract more and more from Indonesia's marine territories - often illegally. Many of these industries are severely under regulated and foreign fishing boats regularly encroach on Indonesian fishing grounds without permits. The use of cyanide and dynamite to stun and kill fish is still prevalent.
     Sharks have been aggressively targeted by fishers in recent years thanks to the popularity of shark fin soup amongst an increasingly aflluent middle class in many            Asian countries. No one knows precisely what impact this will have on shark populations in the long term, but it could well be catastrophic. As peak predators,                  sharks play a key role in the health of marine ecosystems like coral reefs, maintaining balance.

Studies have clearly indicated that both sharks and rays are of much greater value alive than they are dead. The challenge is to shift behaviour and establish blue economies that enable local coastal communities to benefit from industries like dive tourism so that they have a genuine stake in conserving these magnificent creatures.

Already there are signs of change. Tiny coastal communities, from Banda Aceh in the east across to West Papua, now work in conjunction with NGOs and the Indonesian government, helping to develop ways of sustainably utilising their own reefs and mangroves.

They are trained in alternative industries such as sea weed farming or taught innovative techniques and given access to markets to ensure that the money generated by their own backyard reefs returns to the village. Tourism has become a vital source of employment and income, proving that local reefs and the marine life they support are more valuable when they are flourishing and healthy, rather than overfished and smothered. 

These village-scale initiatives are just small parts of much larger projects that focus on entire ecosystems and the communities that rely on them. In Pemuteran, local communities with the help of prominent scientists, have established a network of Biorock artifical reefs, which are rescuing fishing grounds, educating the next generation about marine conservation and generating tourism revenues. 

By examining the myriad connections within these systems and gaining an understanding of how each small part plays its own, vital role, we have begun to build a framework that incorporates the views and needs of the people of Indonesia, preserves the environments on which they depend and yet allows for the sustainable use of the life found in Indonesia's rich seas. 

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