Indonesian Environment Protection: Rallying for the Reefs

The Indonesia archipelago is home to the world’s most spectacular and biologically diverse coral reefs. ADB is working to preserve the reefs, and the fish (and people) that depend on them for survival.


Fast Facts

up to 30%
Coastal economic activities as a percentage of Indonesia’s GDP
20 million
Indonesians employed in coastal and marine activities
5% per year
Average increase in live coral cover in project areas
> 2% per year
Increases in household incomes in project sites surveyed


Gunung Kijang, Bintan—Afternoon sunlight streams through a hole in the roof that is patched with a translucent sheet of hard plastic, brightening the small room at the back of the house.

This is where Ermiyati, a 46-year-old teacher, and her husband, Wasrul, 51, spend most of the day cleaning and filleting fish and making kerupuk atom—an Indonesian, ball-shaped fish cracker—that a Malaysian distributor buys from them and exports to markets abroad.

Wasrul used to be a fisherman, but he stopped going out to sea in 2010, when his wife’s small business received a $600 loan from a program funded by the second phase of ADB’s Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management Project, which aimed to preserve the country’s coral reefs, and the fish that depend on them.

The small loan allowed the former fisherman to stay at home and work with his wife, who now had a freezer to store more fish, an electric grinder to replace her laborious hand-cranked version, and a plastic sealer for packaging her products.

“Now we can earn around Rp2 million ($212) a month,” the mother of three says, showing a neatly compiled financial report. Training on bookkeeping and financial management, as well as on marketing and management, was another benefit of the project.

“Before, we barely made Rp1 million ($106) a month,” she adds.

Their higher income enabled the couple to move to a bigger house in the seaside village of Malang Rapat on Bintan, part of the Riau Islands—just 30 minutes by ferry from Singapore—and send their 21-year-old daughter to college, where she is studying to be a teacher.

Alternative livelihoods

Providing alternative livelihoods to coastal communities is a key component of the effort to protect the rich coral reefs around Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelagic nation and the recognized center of global coral biodiversity.

Official data shows that coastal and marine economic activities make up as much as 30% of Indonesia’s GDP and provide employment to about 20 million people in 67,500 coastal villages.

But the reefs—a crucial part of the marine ecosystem—are under threat from destructive fishing methods used by both large- and small-scale fishermen. Figures vary, but most coastal areas have less than 50% live coral cover.

“To reduce the pressure on the marine resources, it’s crucial that alternative forms of livelihood are promoted among coastal communities,” says Ulia Fachmi, the head of the Conservation and Rehabilitation Division of the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries office in Riau Islands Province.

Gunung Kijang—the district in which Ermiyati and Wasrul’s seaside village is located—is about an hour away from the resort area of Bintan, a popular tourist destination from Singapore. But the contrast between the two areas is stark. Neatly trimmed trees line the roads leading to Bintan’s massive, sprawling resorts, which offer tourists who pay in Singapore dollars a wealth of luxurious services and activities.

In Gunung Kijang, the poverty is palpable. Though Ermiyati and Wasrul have been able to move to a bigger house, it is sparsely furnished. Their 11-year-old son plays a portable computer game on the floor of a room furnished only with a small TV set. Electricity is only available from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.

According to Ulia, about 90% of the residents of the four districts and one city in Bintan under the project rely on the sea in one form or another for their livelihoods. Convincing fishermen to stop using destructive but more productive forms of fishing is therefore no easy task.

“It was challenging because the project's basic objective was about a change in behavior and a paradigm shift,” says  Nasimul Islam, ADB water resource management specialist managing the project.

To achieve success, the project employed a multifaceted approach, including management of marine protected areas and social infrastructures (e.g., village roads, jetties, solid waste management, water supply and sanitation facilities, etc). Another key component provided support for alternative livelihoods to reduce unsustainable pressure on fisheries, encourage coral ecosystem conservation, and catalyze economic growth.

With their wives receiving business training and access to loans, men were more likely to protect the marine resources that give them their livelihoods. Women also achieved leadership positions in coral reef management boards, which supports the project activities at the community level with participation and support from the local government.

“The project helped empower us women to help our husbands.”

—Rosana, small business owner

“The project helped empower us women to help our husbands,” says Rosana, 38, who lives near Ermiyati and is one of six housewives who produce kerupuk atom for Rp50,000 ($5.30) a day.

Rosana, a mother of three who is also married to a fisherman, happens to be the facilitator for the 16 women’s groups formed in the area under the project. Some of the other groups, which consist of up to 10 women, opened restaurants or produce handicrafts.

“It helped give us more confidence that we can also become income earners and contribute more,” she says.

In Rosana’s village and 12 other project sites surveyed, household incomes increased by more than the targeted 2% per year as a result of the project.

Raising awareness

Alongside efforts to support alternative livelihoods, the project has carried out awareness campaigns about the impacts of destructive fishing on ecosystems, and involved local fishermen in identifying coral resource areas, protection areas, and action plans.

“We have to conserve the coral reefs, because if we don’t the fish will be gone. It is a breeding ground for fish so it has to be protected,” said Yusran, a trader who serves as the chairman of a group of fishermen called Bawal Putih.

He sits cross-legged on a small dock on a postcard-perfect beach just a few dozen steps from Ermiyati’s home. He and an elderly fisherman are about to perform a short ritual to bless a new kelong—an offshore fishing platform. Over a set of pitchers and bowls filled with seawater, the elders recite prayers to Allah, asking for his blessing.

Today, these fishermen—who once used bombs and cyanide to catch fish—are at the forefront of efforts to protect the reefs. A number of them have even been deputized to serve as reef watchers, carrying out monitoring and surveillance duties.

“There is increased awareness and a change in attitude toward coral reef conservation among the fishing community.”

—Ulia Fachmi, head of the Conservation and Rehabilitation Division, Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Riau Islands Province

“The most important thing about the project is how it cultivated ownership of efforts to conserve coral reefs,” Ulia says. “It's obvious that there is increased awareness and a change in attitude toward coral-reef conservation among the fishing community. They now realize the importance of conserving the coral reefs to ensure sustainability of their livelihood.”

According to Nasimul, as a result, live coral cover in the project areas has increased by an average of 5% per year. Fish catches have also generally been increasing in the majority of ADB-supported project sites.

Challenges remain all the same. Though destructive fishing practices have substantially declined among the local fishermen, they still exist—generally carried out by trawlers or foreign vessels.

But Nasimul remains hopeful there is still progress to be made and sustainability of project activities to be achieved.

“By improving and institutionalizing marine management area operations and surveillance activities—including broader awareness raising activities and grass-roots integrated planning and implementation, linked with greater support and participation from stakeholders from local and national government, nongovernment organizations, and academic and research institutions— some of the constraints are expected to be overcome during the next phase of the program,” Nasimul says.