Build a Reef

Fish Bombing

Pulau Badul, located in the bay of Ujung Kulon National Park on the southwest tip of Java, was chosen as the site for this project. This tiny island, tipping just above sea level at high tide, had its surrounding reef almost completely destroyed by fish bombing five years ago. Iit has since become a protected area, but the comeback of the reef by itself has been slow, due to the total devastation caused by the fishermen.

Fish bombing is a common practice around Indonesia, as well as in other parts of the world. Fishermen use explosives to kill fish, and when the fish then come floating to the surface, the fishermen take their pick. The bombs, however, kill everything: all smaller fish and sea life, soft coral, hard coral – sadly, none of it of any commercial interest. When the fishermen collect their catch, everything other than the bigger edible fish gets left behind, together with a reef-now-turned-graveyard. In the end, the devastation hits all non-targeted marine life in much greater numbers than the few targeted fish. Even worse, it destroys an entire system, leaving nothing but lifeless ruins for years to come.

Local Ownership

This destructive practice is being increasingly monitored by authorities, but is very difficult to put an end to. Therefore, even more than elsewhere, sustainability of this WWF project depends on the local community taking ownership. With a purely correctional method not a viable option, WWF has been working on involving the locals as much as possible, and having the villagers profit from their projects economically – as well as looking for a commercial partner who would be happy to invest in this by attracting people to contribute. Java Sea Charters was this partner.

Sustainable Alternatives

This alternative income for the local villagers should come from a variety of sources. First is the coral farming, which produces the colonies used for reef building. In the case of this trip, 40 percent of the proceeds of the weekend will be used to pay the coastal villagers for their ‘products’ and associated costs. As yet, a farming villager cannot generate enough income from farming to sustain himself, so he needs to supplement his income by fishing. Hopefully, with villagers now actively involved in the farming, and with at least some of their income stemming from it, this should lessen the appetite for bombing.

A second source of income is tourism, but this is a longerterm goal. Tourism is always a two-sided sword because it can cause destruction on its own; but it can also improve the sustainability of marine life (and for that matter, other wildlife as well). The Maldives stand out as an example of a country with a successfully-managed marine life because of tourism. Already, the WWF projects in Ujung Kulon manage to draw the attention of avid divers, who sometimes sleep in the villages, rent the local boats, and explore other parts of the area. If the total area could be developed in a sustainable way, the benefits of tourism would most likely far outweigh any destruction it would bring.

Without these alternative income sources, the fishermen tend to encroach on not only marine areas, but also terrestrial parts of the park. The ecological benefits thus reach much further than the sea life alone.

Helping Nature

The group’s first dive at Pulau Badul was to show what can be done when humans interfere subtly to give nature a little help. Around one part of the island, WWF had constructed several artificial reefs built from concrete hollow cubes. By constructing reefs in pyramid shapes, the surface area is optimised for coral to grow on and, at the same time, fish are provided with a sheltered area. Only one year after construction, these artificial reefs showed a remarkably rich marine life, with colourful young hard and soft coral, plenty of lion fish, schools of catfish and shrimp, to name but a few.

The reef which the divers were about to build was slightly different in nature. Small hard and soft coral colonies were attached to bricks, which were placed on and attached to concrete bed-shaped structures. As opposed to the pyramid-shaped structures already in place, these coral colonies should give the development of the corals a jump start.

Diving with Turtles and Tuna

When Java Sea Charters launched the initiative to contribute to WWF’s efforts in Ujung Kulon National Park, within one day of promoting it, the trip was overbooked. Scuba divers apparently not only want to ‘consume’ marine life as passive viewers, but many will jump at the chance to play an active role in maintaining marine biodiversity.

In evaluating the weekend afterwards, all divers agreed that they were greatly concerned about the devastation of marine life around the globe. Many also admitted that it might be for selfish reasons – and that can be perfectly okay – but they want to be able to keep on diving with turtles, tuna and trevally, and gliding weightlessly by beautiful coral. Also, for a change, working during a dive to do their part gives them as much satisfaction as the more adrenaline-empowered wellknown divers’ kicks, such as large shark encounters or the joy of lounging with gentle giant manta rays.

Operating at a Loss

Other than the organisation itself, Java Sea Charters supported this trip by operating it at a loss. The generous support received from several companies was a help in making this event possible: Bluebird provided the return four-hour bus rides to and from Tanjung Lesung; Unilever’s latest Calbee Minori snacks were the answer to divers’ munchies; Kristal Klear Divers provided extra tanks; and local beer brewer Bintang opened the taps for the needed liquid supplies for the hard-working builders.

With the raving feedback from all participants after the weekend, and the overbookings before, Java Sea Charters has decided to organise such events on a more regular basis. Logically, these repeat trips will include monitoring the development of the recently-built reef as well.

WWF Indonesia has set up a website for this and more reef-building weekends to come:, as a page of their general website. This very complete site will not only give you plenty of interesting information on other WWF projects, but also on what you can do yourself for the oceans – such as their useful Sea Food Guide of which species to eat and not to eat.

Many small steps by many people will take us a long way!

Source by Roger Hamilton

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