Rokhmin Dahuri , JAKARTA POST | Mon, 05/11/2009 2:54 PM | World Ocean Conference
Perhaps there is no country in the world that might have a greater need than Indonesia to be concerned about its ocean space and resources. After centuries of being at the epicenter of international trade and commerce due to its geo-strategic location on the the Asia Pacific Rim, Indonesia, which forms the world’s largest archipelago (more than 17,500 islands) and possesses the greatest marine biodiversity of any region of the world, should be recognized as one of the most significant maritime nations.
Indeed, prior to the colonial era, Indonesia was one of the strongest maritime powers in the Asia-Pacific region. Moreover, at times when the Law of the Sea was negotiated, Indonesia was respected as one of the most outstanding leaders, especially in ensuring the archipelagic concept (the 1957 Djoeanda Declaration) was incorporated into the 1982 UNCLOS.
However, from the beginning of colonialism until the fall of the New Order government (1998), Indonesia has turned its back on the oceans and has not dealt effectively with coastal and ocean development as a sustainable source of its competitiveness, prosperity and sovereignty. For more than three and a half centuries, most Indonesians had perceived the oceans as “a marginal land” with insignificant economic potential and no strategic value for the nation.
Such a misleading perception was obviously reflected in the allocation of government funds, credit loans, human resources, science and technology, infrastructure and other management input into coastal and ocean development sectors that have been much smaller than those for land-based development sectors.
It is no coincidence the pattern of coastal and ocean resource development in the past was characterized by low technological content, inefficient and highly extractive, with no regard for environmental and resource sustainability. As a corollary, the physical destruction of vital coastal ecosystems (coral reefs, sea-grass beds, mangroves, estuaries and beaches), pollution, overfishing, biodiversity loss and other environmental stresses in some coastal areas (such as parts of the Malacca Strait, Jakarta Bay, the south coast of South Sulawesi, Buyat Bay and Aijkwa estuary in Papua) has reached a level that threatens their sustainable capacity in supporting further economic development.
Indonesian seas actually have tremendous economic, socio-cultural, and ecological functions, which are invaluable not only to Indonesia but also to the rest of the world. Indonesia is blessed with abundant and diverse coastal and ocean resources ranging from non-renewable resources such as oil and gas, iron ores, tin, bauxite, gold, copper and other minerals, and renewable resources including fish, marine organisms, mangroves, coral reefs and seaweed. Moreover, Indonesia’s coastal and ocean ecosystems have many other roles and functions in people’s daily lives and the economic development of the nation including tourism, sea transportation and communication, ports and harbors, maritime industries and services, cooling water for industries, waste assimilation and conservation.
In 2007 the contribution of coastal and ocean development sectors to the Indonesian economy was estimated at $100 billion (one-quarter of GDP), which is much lower than the total potential estimates of US$800 billion annually. Those coastal and ocean sectors represent a significant source of economic and social welfare, supporting directly or indirectly 60 percent of the Indonesian population who currently live in the coastal zone. Preliminary estimates indicate these activities provide employment opportunities for about 16 million people. Thus, if we could boost coastal and ocean development to up to 50 percent of the national GDP, then new employment opportunities for about 15 million people would be created.
Meanwhile, Indonesian seas and oceans determine the dynamic of world’s climate including El-Nino, La-Nina, and global warming. Although scientifically still debatable, Indonesian seas and oceans as the center of global marine biodiversity (Coral Triangle) are strongly believed to have a greater sink function of greenhouse gases, particularly CO2.
Indonesia is also uniquely located as the only country on Earth where an exchange of marine life between the Pacific and Indian oceans occurs. Cetacean (whale and dolphin) movements between the tropical Pacific and Indian oceans take place through the passages between the Lesser Sunda Islands, which span over 900 kilometers between the Sunda and Sahul shelves. Skipjacks, tuna and other large pelagic fishes also use the Indonesian marine waters as their spawning grounds, nursery grounds, feeding grounds, and migratory routes from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean, and vice versa.
The challenge for Indonesia is therefore how to develop coastal and ocean resources on an optimal and sustainable basis for the utmost benefit of the Indonesian people and the world by proportionally achieving economic growth, social equity, ecological sustainability while also managing the impacts of global warming.
As far as marine conservation is concerned, Indonesia has been in the lead by establishing more than 8 million hectares of its territorial waters as MPA (marine protected areas) from 1977 to 2007. Since 2002 it has been planned the MPA will be enlarged to 10 million hectares by the end of 2010, making it the largest of its kind in the world.
If through the WOC, world leaders are fully committed to conserving the “Coral Triangle Ecosystem”, the function of Indonesian seas as carbon sinks and the center of global marine biodiversity and gene pools will be strengthened. In return, world nations, especially industrialized countries and neighboring countries, should help Indonesia overcome chronic problems of high unemployment and poverty rates through the transfer of sustainable ocean technology, capacity building, productive investment, combating illegal fishing and trans-boundary environmental destructions, and free and fair international trade.
The writer is professor of coastal and marine resource management at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture.