November 17, 2013


As recently as 2004, Karimunjawa National Park was considered as a ‘paper’ park with grim prospects for improvement. Almost 10 years later, Dr. Stuart Campbell revisits the changes that have turned this protected area off the coast of Java into a growing success story. 

At a recent workshop I attended, a comment was made that Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) traditionally have been set up to protect biodiversity. Whilst this view is likely justified by the development of global MPAs since the 1970s, increasingly in the past few decades they have increasingly been tailored to promote fishery production and recovery.

WCS’ focus has very much put fisheries protection and sustainability at the forefront of MPA development. This is because when WCS started working in Karimunjawa National Park (a MPA off the coast of Java) in 2002, we witnessed the live reef trade operating full swing without regulation, with large boats entering the park to be loaded with live grouper and snapper for export to Hong Kong. 

From ‘conservation fortresses’ to rights-based sustainable fisheries 

Today, the focus seems to be shifting to fisheries management, often single species approaches that include rights-based allocation of particular species, to support ecosystem based approaches including gear restrictions and spatial closures. The recent re-focus on fisheries amongst donors and some NGOs possibly reflects a weariness with the lack of demonstrated benefits that the ‘no take areas at all costs’ approach has had on fish stocks in, in Indonesia in particular. 

In 2009, when a couple of Australian researchers came to Karimunjawa Marine National Park to investigate the marine ecosystems, they were shocked to witness destructive muroami fishing that exploited a wide range of fish species. Other impacts ranged from anchor damage on corals to widespread use of blast fishing and cyanide. 

Indeed, after 7 years of working in Karimunjawa with my team, we seemingly had a serious failure on our hands. It was time to learn from our contribution to this failure: fish stocks in decline, weak law enforcement on poaching, and poor relationships with local communities. 

Turning the ship around 

During those years, we had collected standard fisheries landing/catch data with local fishers, so we knew which fisheries were in trouble. This meant we could identify solutions in term of fishing gear and other restrictions that would potentially help fishery recovery. 

We decided to directly invest in community-based programs and stop funding non-community based workshops—although there was no guarantee of success. Working with communities, and helping them with a range of livelihood programs from reef fish mariculture to building tourism enterprises and attempting to re-stock wild populations of grouper with cultured juveniles, the knowledge gained by these programs began to be used in innovative ways. 

For example conflicts among spear and handline fishers for certain reef fish species have been resolved by village laws enabling some level of protection to wild populations of squaretail coral trout (Plectropomus areolatus), camouflage grouper (Epinephelus polyphekadion) and tiger grouper (Epinephelus fuscoguttatus), from exploitative fishing gears such as spear guns. 

Data from WCS and the government on these fishes was used to shape the laws introduced. The laws adopt a ‘rights-based approach’, where local fishers only have access to nominated species though a range of controls. Already local fishers are reporting up to 10% increases in the abundance of the squaretail coral trout and camouflage grouper on some reefs. Communities in 2012 also agreed to double the area of no take zones, which now cover around 20% of reef habitats in Karimunjawa and are being enforced by communities and government rangers. 

Market incentives that promote sustainability 

So while we have helped fishers in Karimunjawa to achieve some success, it is ever important that we learn from these approaches. Part of the solution we believe is to work with fishers, buyers, traders and exporters, to identify potential species for improved management and marketing opportunities for direct income benefits to local fishers. On a recent trip to Karimunjawa, my staff examined the park in terms of its potential to deliver improved fisheries management through privileged or rights-based approaches. 

These approaches may not necessarily follow standard ‘western techniques’ such as setting fishery quotas. They may have to be tailored to local circumstances, such as controlling fishing effort through gear and boat usage in certain fisheries to build stocks and fisheries sustainability. 

One example is the deep sea red snapper fishery of Karimunjawa, where fishers set large traps outside the park at a depth of 50-100m for export to other Asian countries. This fishery may have potential for a rights-based approach due to its limited access and selective gears used. 

As we chase the supply chains emanating out of Karimunjawa for this and other fisheries, I reflect on how Karimunjawa is so different to those days in 2004 when ships set for Hong Kong, were loaded up with live reef, caught using cyanide in the park. Local fisher co-operatives now use floating fish cages to ‘grow up’ reef fish from cultured juveniles, which are onsold for profit. 

Karimunjawa is now a model MPA for Indonesia, due in some part to the effort by WCS and the government to shift our focus to community and market-based solutions, to build back depleted fisheries. My hope is that by 2024, local village laws have helped to replenish reefs with teeming snapper and grouper populations and that local fishers not only have privileged rights to their local fisheries, but are receiving added market value for their precious catch, enabling sustained and improved catches.

Posted in: Marine

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