A WCS United Nations Ocean Conference Blog

In Indonesia, Cooperation and Collaboration Are Key to Marine Protection

Indonesia hosts the world’s highest marine biodiversity. Photo: Ken Kassem/WCS.

By Ken Kassem
June 6, 2017

Borders and boundaries make up the majority of our news cycles now. Refugees. Walls. Restrictions on movement. It often feels that we are increasingly compartmentalizing and isolating humanity just at a time when we need to embrace diversity and movement and break down barriers.

The constant news stories of barriers and borders often contrasts, in my mind, with the realities of marine conservation that rely on connectivity, cooperation, and consultation for success. What I see on television contrasts with what I see on the ground. People in marine conservation, from global to local scales, defy the media narrative, working together for a better planet.

Cooperation is central to ocean conservation. Photo: Ken Kassem/WCS.

We know that our planet thrives with diversity. Ecosystems with rich varieties of species, habitats and genes (that is the definition of biodiversity after all) tend to be more stable and respond to threats better than ecosystems that have lost their biological richness and variety. Coral reefs that have their full complement of corals, sponges, fish, and hundreds of other taxa are the pinnacle of marine ecosystems and nowhere on Earth are they as rich as they are in Indonesia — in the heart of the Coral Triangle.

Our oceans have no borders. Currents flow without regard for national boundaries, ethnic or religious differences, or which country has the better football team. In fact, the health of our oceans depends on the flow of currents; the sharing of larvae, juvenile fish and corals; and the migration of tunas, whales, and other ocean giants.

When we designate a marine protected area and set it off-limits to fishing, it allows fish to grow big within its protected space. Bigger fish produce exponentially more eggs. The free-flowing currents move the eggs into spaces where the fish can eventually be caught.

The six countries of the Coral Triangle are working together for sustainable fisheries and food security. Photo: Ken Kassem/WCS.

This brings us to the United Nations Ocean Conference this week. As the world comes together for the sake of our oceans (let’s make the planet great again!) one of the themes is to foster greater cooperation. Having the attention of the world on the health of the planet’s greatest ecosystems gives me hope. And it gives me a chance to reflect on the situation where I work, in Indonesia.

Indonesia has been the focus of marine conservation for 20 years — at least. It is the world’s biggest archipelago, the 4th most populous country, the 2nd biggest capture-fishery, the biggest shark fishery, biggest tuna fishery, and hosts the highest marine biodiversity.

There are many local and international NGOs working on marine conservation and fisheries in Indonesia and they are making real progress. Indonesia is on the brink of reaching its commitment to establish 20,000,000 hectares of marine protected areas by 2020. The government is taking on Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing with both gloves off. They have totally protected all manta rays and are turning their attention to sharks.

Indonesia is on the brink of reaching its commitment to establish 20,000,000 hectares of marine protected areas by 2020. Photo: Ken Kassem/WCS.

What makes marine conservation succeed in Indonesia? There is a culture of real collaboration. The private sector, the NGOs, the government, and communities have built an environment and trust that I haven’t experienced in any other country that I’ve worked in. There is competition between NGOs, but competition is healthy. On top of it, though, is collaboration and cooperation. There is a flow of information and sharing that makes it work. And that is a cause for optimism.

So in this time of borders, walls, and refugees, it is reassuring to have the United Nations Ocean Conference. It is reassuring to have the six countries of the Coral Triangle working together for a healthy marine environment, sustainable fisheries, and food security. It gives one hope when people and organizations come together for our planet. Let’s make the oceans great again!

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Ken Kassem is Senior Marine Advisor for the Indonesia Program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).