“We need to help people find alternatives,” Gayatri says, pointing towards the shallow reefs of Bone Baru.
The moisture-laden breeze hints of distant rain, but for now the sun blazes down on our heads as we watch a handful of fishermen fishing for octopus from their boats just offshore. Cooling surf laps over our toes on the beach at Bone Baru, a small fishing village near Popisi on Banggai Island in Central Sulawesi (Indonesia), where we have come to discuss how local communities can better manage their coral reef fishery.
I am here with Gayatri Reksodihardjo-Lilley, who I have come to regard as a force of nature. She is dynamic, forever on the move, having to seize the typical (for Indonesia) flight delays to catch up on her phone calls, apologising for the background noise on her end of the line. But somehow she always makes time to connect with people, and is held in high esteem by her staff and the communities that her organisation supports. Several of Bone Baru’s fishers greet her on their way up the beach with the morning’s catch, using the polite address “Ibu Gayatri”. In Indonesia, Ibu means mother, which rings true to anyone witnessing the special attention Gayatri places on supporting this community.
Born and raised in Jakarta, Gayatri has been passionate about the ocean since childhood, studying Marine Biology at the National University in Jakarta and later obtaining an MSc in Conservation Biology at the University of Kent. She pioneered the marine programme for WWF in Indonesia in the 1990s, which involved researching reefs in remote parts of the country – at a time when diving was still a novelty in Indonesia, especially for women.
Gayatri is now the Executive Director of LINI (The Indonesian Nature Foundation), a marine conservation organisation based in Bali that works with marginalised coastal communities to reverse the degradation of Indonesia’s coral reefs and raise awareness about responsible and sustainable marine resource use. Founded in 2008 by Gayatri and her husband Ron, LINI has since gone from strength to strength. Today the organisations runs a range of highly innovative projects, from an aquaculture and training centre for sustainable capture of the endangered Banggai Cardinalfish, to supporting reef restoration initiatives and developing a fisheries improvement projects for the traditional handline yellowfin tuna fisheries in the Banda Sea. Now the LINI team are embarking on a new initiative for the sustainable management of one of the country’s most important resources: octopus.
Blue Ventures has already witnessed the potential for temporary octopus fishery closures to rebuild fisheries yields and catalyse community conservation across a growing number of countries in East Africa and the Indian Ocean. In November 2016 Blue Ventures and LINI formed a partnership, and initiated discussions to evaluate the potential for community-based octopus fishery monitoring and management in Popisi, a Bajo village near Bone Baru. The octopus fishery is vital for the island, helping feed coastal families as well as supplying local and export markets. The Bajo, a nomadic seafaring people, live in stilt houses in many coastal areas of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines; they do not farm, or work on land, instead remaining completely dependent on the sea for their livelihood.
Banggai Island lies within the recently established Banggai Laut Regency, covering an immense 13,000 km2 and 290 islands, though only 5% of the area is land. Gayatri knows that to protect the rich coral reef habitats of Banggai she has to work on a regional level and engage more people, especially those who, like the Bajo, depend completely on the sea. “Octopus grow rapidly and produce more eggs as they age, so protecting them could quickly increase catches and income” says Gayatri. “The Banggai Laut district is very new and there are still no conservation or management areas in place. We hope this project will help to kickstart community conservation here.”
LINI and the people of Bone Baru have already collaborated on a successful conservation initiative on the island – protecting the endemic Banggai Cardinalfish. With its silver-and-black body and long, dark fins studded with white spots, its beauty has made it hugely popular in the international aquarium trade. Before 2016, the villagers were capturing it in large numbers to supply an upsurge in demand, but after a dramatic decline in the species’ population, LINI began looking for ways to improve its management and conservation.
LINI trained fishers in better capture and handling methods for all fish species intended for aquaria, and facilitated improvements to the export chain. The community was also given the necessary support to conduct Banggai Cardinalfish surveys in its local area. Enthused by the project, the people of Bone Baru took its protection one step further and created a permanent reserve right in front of their village.
“We really hope that local efforts to manage the octopus fishery work the same way”
“The reserve is small, but it was sufficient for the Banggai Cardinalfish population to bounce back,” Gayatri explains. “By protecting this species, the people of Bone Baru also safeguard the local reef ecosystem, and support local income generation through the aquarium trade. They are very protective of their reserve and ensure that nobody uses destructive practices such as cyanide or bomb fishing, which are common problems in this region.”
“We really hope that local efforts to manage the octopus fishery work the same way,” Gayatri adds excitedly. “We were already reaching the people here in Bone Baru, but we needed to extend this to villages with a stronger dependence on marine resources such as Popisi. The people of Bone Baru have farmland, but the Bajo have no land. Demonstrating how conservation works through local engagement empowers people to feel that that they can make a difference by managing species and protecting important habitats.”
LINI is working closely with the community to address the lack of fishery data, a vital step towards the implementation of a fisheries improvement study and to build local capacity for future management of the fishery. After meetings with the community and government agencies, monitoring of octopus landings in Popisi took off in January 2017.
“If we manage the octopus fishery and protect its habitat, we can expect improvements in other fisheries and in people’s livelihoods. This is what we want to see.” And if anyone can make this vision a reality, it’s Ibu Gayatri, Indonesia’s very own force of nature.
Find out more about LINI’s octopus fishery programme in Banggai Laut
Discover more about octopus fishery management
All photos in this blog were taken by Claudia Matzdorf unless otherwise specified in the caption