Teeming with life, the ocean fuels prosperity for approximately 60 million coastal Indonesians. Coral reefs not only thrive as vital tourist destinations, but sea grass meadows and mangrove forests shield against natural disasters and capture carbon from the atmosphere. The ocean’s habitats offer a range of sources of livelihoods for millions of people and play a crucial part in mitigating and adapting to a changing climate. It is therefore crucial to manage them sustainably.
“The ocean is more than just a body of water for us, it is a source of life for my community,” said Cessy Anakay, eco-tourism coordinator of Bukan Sekedar Pasiar, a local organization based in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara. “Every part of the ocean serves a meaningful purpose.”
However, overfishing, marine plastic debris, pollution, and coastal urban and agricultural development threaten Indonesia’s ocean economy, with critical ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangroves exposed to significant degradation. In 1998, the Government of Indonesia took a giant step to protect its coral reefs and marine ecosystems through the World Bank-supported Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management Program (COREMAP). Over the course of 25 years through several iterations, COREMAP has established a legacy of supporting Indonesia’s protection of coastal resources, designation of protected marine areas, and enhanced research and oversight of coastal ecosystems.
During its two initial phases (1998-2011), the program laid the groundwork for coral reef and coastal ecosystem management through a community-based, decentralized approach. Improved stewardship of coastal resources led to a 60 percent decline in illegal and destructive fishing in six of seven project districts. Districts further reported a 17 percent growth of coral reef cover and the return of long absent marine species. As the program progressed, local communities reported an average income increase of 20 percent among beneficiaries. What was good for conservation was also good for coastal livelihoods.
A significant achievement was the establishment of the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF) in 2009 in collaboration with five neighboring countries: Timor-Leste, Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. As part of follow-through on CTI-CFF commitments, the Government of Indonesia has designated 20 million hectares as Marine Protected Areas, ensuring long-term protection of vital coastal ecosystems.
The third phase of the program scaled up protection of marine areas, improved monitoring, deepened research, increased onshore investments and strengthened institutional capacity, in particular focusing on improving the management of marine protected areas in Raja Ampat and the Savu Sea.
As part of these efforts, the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) successfully expanded the coastal ecosystems’ monitoring coverage to over 12 million hectares. Cutting-edge tools such as the Coral Reef Health Index, the Seagrass Ecological Quality Index, and Mangrove Health Index were also developed and put into practice during this phase. These innovative indices linked field data to more sustainable ecosystem management practices and made the conservation effort more effective and better informed.
BRIN also established an innovative National Coastal Ecosystems Monitoring Certification Standard for enhanced participative monitoring of coral reef ecosystems, allowing local citizens, universities, NGOs and the private sector to be trained to assess the health of coral reefs, mangroves, and sea grass areas.
“The management of coral reefs, sea grass beds, and mangrove ecosystems is a challenging effort that requires care, synergy, and harmonized approaches,” said Udhi Eko Hernawan, head of the Research Center for Oceanography (P2O) at BRIN. “The roadmap and lessons learned provided by COREMAP have become foundational to the sustainability and longevity of marine ecosystem protection and rehabilitation.”
Expanded research has produced valuable insights that inform management and infrastructure investment crucial for coastal ecosystem conservation. Through the Indonesia Climate Change Trust Fund (ICCTF), COREMAP and the Coral Triangle Initiative launched six grants to fund on-the-ground projects, accelerating progress in marine protected area management effectiveness. These grants support activities including starting community-based ecotourism programs, training local businesses and guides, strengthening local community monitoring of coastal area protection, and rehabilitation of coral reefs, mangroves and sea grass. These activities increase communities’ engagement in stewardship of their coastal resources, helping ensure the sustainability of COREMAP impacts. Observation towers allow community members to monitor whether fishing boats observe the boundaries of protected areas.