Sustainable Livelihoods through Sustainable Resource Management

     A Prospectus for Coastal and Marine Community Solutions in South Sulawesi, Indonesia


      Interdisciplinary Group for Environmental Justice in Coastal and Marine Communities

                                          Ohio University and Hasanuddin University 



            Concentrated human populations along coastal areas in Indonesia have resulted in the exploitation and degradation of marine resources.  These rapidly growing populations threaten and stress the coral reefs, mangroves, and sea grasses which in turn support an enormous array of fish, mammal, bird, reptile, and invertebrate species.  The development of these marine resources has made a significant contribution to the Indonesian economy at both the national and local levels.  However, this development occurs at considerable environmental and human cost.  This, in turn, reduces income and quality of life for the coastal populations. 


No single methodology can effectively solve all problems or provide a universally applicable management strategy.  The problems facing coastal communities are complex and continually change with natural disturbances, anthropogenic interference, and global weather patterns.  Moreover, fishing practices are intricately and delicately rooted in the localized socio-economic and political circumstances and culturally-based beliefs and practices of individual communities.  The goal of this project is to facilitate stewardship of valuable marine and terrestrial resources by helping local communities become true participants in the conservation, management and implementation, and regulation process. Any management approach which has the potential to sustain both local communities and the resources upon which they rely must be based within the communities themselves.    


Recently, many development projects, including those aimed at reef conservation in Indonesia, have called for participation by local communities as a means to assure sustainable management of local resources.  Too often, however, participation is in reality a ploy to mobilize local populations to enact management goals that are already decided upon by development ‘experts’, government agents, corporate interests, NGOs, and funding organizations. Taken together, these practices have effectively disempowered local communities and, thereby, mitigated the sustainable management of local resources.  This is a too-familiar story and is witnessed globally in developing regions.


Here we propose a more radical approach to participation by local community members, one in which conservation priorities are set by the local community in a truly participatory process.  Such an approach, based in the concept of environmental justice, understands that members of coastal and marine communities participate as active agents in the natural environments in which they gain their livelihoods and that each member deserves both an equal voice in the management of those environments and an equitable share of the resources it produces.  As outside consultants, members of our group seek to work together with local community members to facilitate change based upon their individual and collective knowledge, experiences, and aspirations.  We seek to identify local priorities and problems, and integrate the best practices from other similar projects.  Continual assessment by team members and the community will add to knowledge gained and revise working programs as needed.


Social scientists in our group will study the traditional knowledge and practices of local fishers.  They will also work with community members to so that they may learn to effectively advocate for their communities at the local and provincial level and organize a just and equitable distribution and marketing of marine resources within their communities.  Biologists will work to teach community members to be ‘parabiologists’, carrying out day-to-day evaluation of the health of locally valuable marine resources. Utilizing an ecosystem approach, recognizing both biological and anthropogenic components of the greater system, a mutually beneficial relationship can be established.  The coral reefs surrounding the islands are not only a source of livelihood but sustenance for the local communities.  The reef is an intricately linked ecosystem that is facing pressure from harvesting, fishing, destructive and thus degrading practices, and increasing levels of pollution.  Reefs are responsible for a large part of the nutrient cycling that occurs in marine systems (Hinrichsen, 1997), and similar to terrestrial rainforests, may harbor undiscovered compounds and chemicals with the potential to cure or alleviate disease.


Group members will work to help local fishers learn skills and develop small-scale enterprises which can help them earn a livelihood during the several months each year when high winds prohibit fishing.  Other projects which would both provide income and help restore the local fishery include mariculture and reef restoration, and ecotourism.  To integrate younger members of the community various environmental educational activities will be incorporated within the project.  Working with local teachers, school curricula will be developed which will enable students to take an active role in conservation measures.


In the past, problems have arisen with other projects because of scope.  As a result, long lists of restrictions have confused and frustrated local fishers and severely complicated enforcement.  In our view, real community participation will likely result in a more modest goal with a higher likelihood of success, where success will be measured not only in conservation of the resources, but also in the increased empowerment of the local community and its members.


Two sites, both under pressure due to over-exploitation of marine resources, have been selected for this project.  Both the Spermonde Archipelago and the Sabalana Archipelago have been the subject of study by anthropologists involved in the proposed project.   The Spermonde Archipelago is populated by ethnic Makassar, located 12 miles southwest of Makassar; on all nine inhabited islands, residents rely on fishing for their livelihoods. The Sabalana Archipelago, located 100 miles SSW of Makassar, is made up of thirty islands spread across two coral reefs; together these reefs occupy an area of nearly 700 square kilometers. 


The various communities who occupy these islands rely upon combinations of fishing and inter-island shipping and trade for their livelihoods.  The island of Balobaloang, where Gene Ammarell has carried out ethnographic research since 1988, is populated by ethnic Bugis who make a living aboard trading ships and rely upon fish for subsistence.  The neighboring islands of Sabaru and Sumanga’ are populated by ethnic Makassar.  Residents of Sabaru have also been involved in subsistence fishing and interisland trade, but during the 1990s many became involved in the intensive harvesting of trepang (Holothuria spp) using makeshift diving equipment.  As a result, many men died or were permanently disabled from the bends while the trepang population was severely depleted. 


The people of Sumanga’, on the other hand, are commercial fishers and are blamed for much of the bombing by the people of Balobaloang.  Complex kin networks link these communities and destructive fishing practices by members of each community as well as more remote locations have reduced fish populations and forced local fishers to travel further and further out to sea to find fish for subsistence and for sale in Makassar.  


Project staff includes anthropologists and marine biologists from both Ohio University and Hasanuddin University (see attached).  In addition to the project staff listed, we are proposing that two doctoral candidates be recruited from universities with strong programs in rural sociology to carry out dissertation research in political ecology, one per each site.  Not only would these two graduate students have a full-time presence at the sites, they would also be instrumental in implementing the participatory program envisioned in this proposal.