Thursday, September 11, 2008

Don't take away the traditional rights of the villagers over the exploitation of coral reefs

by Charles Roring


Coral reefs are beautiful underwater environment that increasingly related to diving activities. In other words, healthy coral reefs that are rich of various kinds of fish are the object of lucrative tourism industry. Investors always want to build resorts, hotels and other recreational facilities near these coral reefs hoping that they can get more money from innocent eels, sea horse, fish, and fragile hard and soft corals.

To secure their positions, with their lobbying skills and money, they can even approach the local and national governments using such terms as "marine conservation, coral reefs preservation, and sustainable tourism industry" to implement MPA act to coral reef areas which previously had been the source of food of the surrounding villages.

Irrespective of "their destructive fishing" methods, the villagers living near the reefs are the ones who have to enjoy special privilege in exploiting the sea and the food which coral reefs have provided for them for hundreds of years. Tourists and resort owners cannot ignore these traditional rights.

Actually, traditional villagers are not lack of knowledge and experiences on sustainable fishing. Even though they are not familiar with the term "sustainable fishing, or coral reefs protection", they have certain mechanisms that are closely related to this matter. In my previous article entitled: Preserving coral reefs and marine environment through sustainable fishing and artworks, I wrote about how fishermen in Maluku islands control the fish stock of their waters through the implementation of sasi. When certain waters is in sasi, it becomes a temporarily no take zone. In West Papua, islanders in certain villages around the Cendrawasih bay (formerly known as Geelvink bay) do not eat dolphins believing that their ancestors originate from this kind of fish. The protection of such fish helps maintain the balance of marine ecosystem.

The existence of hotels, diving resorts should not stop the fishermen from exploiting their traditional fishing areas which mostly among the coral reefs.

When certain coral reef regions are turned to Marine Protected Areas or No Take Zones, the villagers who live in the nearby regions must get compensation. We cannot jeopardize their subsistence fishing with lucrative ecotourism business which can only employ small number of villagers. The villagers do not need English skills, certificates from schools of hospitality, or even divemaster certificates to earn a living from the sea. What they need are boats, hook and line, kalawai spear and fish trap.

The application of No Take Zone and the existence of modern fishing fleet have forced the traditional villagers to abandon their sustainable fishing methods. They turn to blast fishing to get more fish so that they can sell them at cheaper price in the market. Sometimes the traditional fishermen use destructive methods as cheaper ways to compete against modern fishermen, or to survive from the increasing pressure of nearby city living.   

Ecotourism businesses and No Take Zones can only be accepted if they give direct contribution to the traditional fishermen. Entrance fee which the tourists pay must be allocated to income generating programs for the villagers.

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