A Reef Ball Project for South Sulawesi, Indonesia


Gene Ammarell

Associate Professor of Anthropology

Ohio University



            In January, 2003, the President of Ohio University and  Rector of Hasanuddin University, Makassar, South Sulawesi, signed a Memorandum of Understanding, joining faculty and students from both institutions in an interdisciplinary project aimed at enabling members of coastal and marine fishing communities in South Sulawesi in their search for ways to maintain sustainable livelihoods through sustainable resource management. 


The primary site of the project will be the island village of Balobaloang where I have been carrying out ethnographic research since 1988.[1]  Located in the Sabalana Archipelago 100 miles SSW of Makassar, it is one of approximately 30 islands surrounding a large reef and home to about 700 people engaged in interisland shipping and trade and subsistence and commercial fishing.  Villagers on nearby islands rely even more heavily on fishing for their economic livelihoods and, together with outside commercial fishers, have contributed to increasingly rapid destruction of the reef through over-fishing and destructive fishing practices, a story all too common in the region and around the world.  In August, 2003, I will be returning to Balobaloang for one year to carry out an ethnographic study of marine resource use and management.  This study will focus on local knowledge of the coral reef environment and local understandings of the degradation that the reef has suffered, while conservation biologists from Ohio University and Hasanuddin University will be assessing the health of the reef.   


A central, long-term goal of the project is to help villagers to conserve and begin to rehabilitate the surrounding reef.  In order to do so, we intend to develop the elementary school on Balobaloang as a resource center for the entire archipelago.  With money raised through the Athens Friends Meeting (Quakers), Athens, Ohio, with the help of the villagers themselves, and in cooperation with Reef Survival (an NGO based in the UK), we intend to rehabilitate the school building, electrify it with solar and wind turbines, and provide computer technology which can be used by both students and adults to learn about similar efforts in other parts of Indonesia and to develop plans for their own communities.


As envisioned, Reef Balls could be the centerpiece of the project, involving both school children and their parents.  Sustainable development projects need to involve not only the current generation of stakeholders, but also the next generation who stand to benefit from such projects.  Education provides children with opportunities to explore their environment as well as alternatives to current practices.  Children can also often influence their parents’ choices.  With this in mind, my wife, an experienced middle school educator, will be working with Supriadi Daeng Matutu, the head teacher of the elementary school and my long-time research assistant to develop curricula materials for sixth grade students which will focus on reef conservation and restoration.  Rita Steyn, a graduate student in Environmental Studies and Ohio University and counterparts at Hasanuddin University will be joining this effort by developing projects that will allow the students and their parents to learn to monitor the health of the reef.   I believe that the introduction of Reef Balls will both inspire excitement among the villagers and provide a focus for local efforts to create a sustainable resource.  


With nearby water depths of about18 to 36 feet, a Mini Bay Ball would seem to be well suited to this project.  Positioned just beyond the reef flat so that children and adults can observe it from a dugout and monitor coral growth with a simple mask and snorkel,  local villagers and visitors from nearby islands stand to learn a lot about regeneration and conservation of the reef.  Unfortunately, without additional outside funding, we will be hard pressed to purchase a reef ball and gain the training needed to install it.  We are, therefore, applying for funding through the Coral Reefs Around the World Grant Program and seeking sponsorship for additional funding.    


[1] .  A secondary site will be on the island of Barang Lompo, located in the Spermonde Islands just north west of Maksassar and home of Hasanuddin University’s Center for Coral Reef Studies.  Significant scientific research is already being carried out there, and researchers from the Center will be coming to Balobaloang to carry out comparative studies.