Hoping for the Dugongs to Return
A line of mangrove saplings planted by locals along the beach in West Yensawai Village, Bantata Island, Raja Ampat, West Papua, March 25, 2022.
TEMPO.CO, Jakarta – Residents of Yensawai plant mangroves, seagrass, and corals to protect their village’s ecosystem. They hope that it could become a tourist destination.
STANDING facing the beach in West Yensawai village, North Batanta, Raja Ampat, West Papua, Petronella Munuari pointed to the neat rows of mangrove saplings in front of her. The rows of young mangroves looked like green lines along the beach with the pristine water. “We work tirelessly. My husband once came and said ‘did you not notice, it is night already?’,” recalled the 46-year-old woman of the event that happened over a year ago. Petronella, together with her friends from the West Yensawai and East Yensawai villages who are active in the Mangrove Group, prepared the nursery and planted mangroves there early last year. Until March 25, when Tempo English—along with the group from the Indonesia Climate Change Trust Fund (ICCTF)-National Development Planning Ministry/National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) and work partners—visited Yensawai, they have managed to grow around 7,500 young mangroves stretching about 250 meters long. They continuously monitor the growth of the saplings. If any gets washed out to sea, they would immediately replace it.
They regularly measure the height of the plants. “I am happy,” said Petronella. “Our village will surely become more secure and beautiful.” Aside from planting mangroves, the people of Yensawai also transplant seagrass and coral reefs that are not only pleasing to the eyes, but also crucial for the marine ecosystem. All these activities are the implementation of the integrated coastal management design program facilitated by the Center for Coastal and Marine Resources Studies of Bogor Agriculture Institute (PKSPL IPB), a partner of ICCTF-Bappenas in the Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management-Coral Triangle Initiative (Coremap-CTI), using a grant from the World Bank. Yusuf Arifin, the owner of a homestay that protrudes into the beach and cuts between the rows of mangroves, is hoping that the rehabilitation of the coastal ecosystem in the region could protect various marine life, including sea turtles and dugongs that are occasionally sighted in the waters of Bantata. “There would be many guests coming,” said the 45-year-old man.
West Yensawai and East Yensawai are two villages on the Bantata Island, Raja Ampat, that are included in the marine conservation area due to their rich natural resources of coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass, and various other marine species. “This region (Raja Ampat) is called the Amazon of the ocean,” said Tonny Wagey, Director of the ICCTF. Around 553 coral species, representing 70 percent of the coral species in the world, are found in the waters of Raja Ampat. Other than that, there are also 1,456 species of reef fish, 699 species of mollusk, five species of sea turtles, and 16 species of marine mammals. The coastal ecosystem of Yensawai, according to Ferry Kurniawan, Director of the West Papua Integrated Coastal Area Management Design Program from the PKSPL IPB, is significantly damaged. “Plenty of coral reefs are damaged and dead. Parts of the beach also suffer erosion and abrasion,” he said. That is why the PKSPL IPB selected Yensawai for the integrated coastal management design program, from August 2020 to March 2022. Additionally, “The locals are ready,” Ferry added.
In 2002, a resident of Yensawai who worked together with Conservation International, Leonard Saleo, tried various efforts to protect the ecosystem in his village, including planting mangroves, conserving coral reefs, and campaigning against fishing with explosives and potassium. However, his activities came to a halt after he was murdered by illegal loggers in 2010 when he was checking information about tree logging in the forest. It was not easy for the PKSPL IPB when it began a similar program. Some locals who initially wanted to be involved decided to quit after a while, although the PKSPL team had involved village, customary, and church leaders in inviting the villagers. One of the reasons is that conservation efforts do not provide direct economical benefits. Ishak Hindom, who is now the Head of the Coral Reef Group, clearly remembers their early meeting, where hundreds of people gathered together. Over time, only small part of that number remained. “Mostly children and the elderlies who are not working,” he said in Sorong, March 29.
Petronella and both of Ishak’s parents—Lodik Hindom and Rosita Infaindan—are among those who stay active. “Mama saw the condition of the village, the damage and the abrasion. The strong talud (seawall) has also fallen,” said Rosita, 57, explaining her reason for staying in the program. She recalled that when she was a child, the coastline was around the row of the newly planted mangroves and the shore where she was standing was still a forest. But now the forest has gone and been replaced by houses and other buildings. When walking along the damaged and partially submerged seawall with Tempo English and several other journalists, Linani Arifin pointed to a local cemetery that sometimes comes within range of the sea waves. “During the high tide, some of the graves would be inundated,” said the 40-year-old woman.
The community that is holding out and the PKSPL IPB team agreed on three main activities and formed three groups responsible for implementation, namely the Mangrove Group, the Coral Reef Group, and the Seagrass Group. Rosita heads the Mangrove Group, Linani Arifin leads the Seagrass Group, and Ishak Hindom is the chief of the Coral Reef Group. Meanwhile, Konstantinus Saleo, the son of Leonard Saleo, who has actively worked with local teenagers and children at the Raja Ampat Coastal Children community, is their coordinator. “The coastal ecosystem is represented by these three, the coral reefs, fields of seagrass, and mangroves. Mangroves protect seagrass, and seagrass protect coral reefs from damage,” said Dadan Mulyana, a coral reef expert from the PKSPL-IPB.
Repairing the damaged coastal ecosystem, however, is no easy task. From time to time, seagrass and mangroves get washed out to sea. The red mangrove (Rhizophora apiculata), the spotted mangrove (Rhizophora styloas) and loop-root mangrove (Rhizophora mucronata) that are usually grown with a distance cluster planting system by the IPB team only had little success here. “We finally tried what we had in the village, which is the korbon pancang system,” said Lodik Hindom, March 29. It was a success. “Even when hit by waves, the mangrove holds on.”