So near and yet so far

Note: This is Rare’s Senior Vice President of Global Programs Paul Butler’s fifth blog post in a series about his recent trip to the Philippines and Indonesia to monitor Rare’s conservation work in the field. You can find his first post here, his second post here, his third post here and fourth here

After two weeks in Raja Ampat it was time to return to the hustle and bustle of Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta.

Established in the fourth century, the city became an important trading port for the Kingdom of Sunda. It was the de facto capital of the Dutch East Indies and continued being the capital city of Indonesia, after its independence in 1945. Today, including its suburbs, it is a metropolis of more than 30 million, about half of the total population of the United Kingdom.

It is a city of contrasts, with skyscrapers and shopping malls, lying adjacent to open sewers, and squalid slums. Arriving there in late June, I found myself too sick to see the sites and spent a couple of days curled (fetal position) in my hotel room. At times sweating so profusely that I wondered if I had any body fluids left and on others shivering uncontrollably.

I was glad that whatever disease I had, had waited until I was in the capital city before striking. I managed to call up a dear friend (Don Bason) who has lived in Jakarta for much of the past decade and he kindly drove me to the local hospital, where I was tested for malaria, typhoid and dengue fever. As Don hovered over me, the doctor was full of questions. Where had I spent the past couple of weeks?

West Papua, I replied. To which he “tutted” ominously, adding that 90 percent of people get malaria there. Had I eaten? No, I responded. More “tutting” and shaking of his head.  He sent for a nurse, who found it impossible to find a suitable vein from which to extract a blood sample. More shaking of heads and “tutting” made me wonder if I would survive the night or ever get to see the third site I had intended visiting.

At long last, a vein was found and several pints of blood (a slight exaggeration) extracted. I waited an hour (in England it would have been several days) and the doctor returned with my results. I had been cleared for malaria, dengue and typhoid, but I had something, although it was unclear what.  My score for hs-CRP was very high, he noted gravely, adding that the normal range is 0.00-3.00 and mine exceeded 9.4. He did not explain what this test was, but I have subsequently found it to be a test for determining the potential risk level for cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and strokes.

I’m not sure why he decided to test me for this, nor why he pumped me full of antibiotics, but whatever he did seemed to have the right effect. By the following morning I was on the road to recovery and able to join the rest of Rare’s team in a trip to Pulau Seribu.

Located in the bay of Jakarta, a mere 45 kilometers and 1-2 hour boat ride from the capital, this archipelago is a world away from the noise and chaos of the city. Pulau Seribu which means a “Thousand Islands” may be a slight exaggeration– In reality, there are anywhere from 70-300 islands, islets and rocks — each a miniature piece of paradise. While some of the islands are inhabited and others privately owned, many remain void of people and several (including Panjaliran Barat and Panjaliran Timur) are “off limits” to the public. The islands are also home to 144 species of fish, two species of giant clam, and 17 species of coastal birds.

Originally given protected area status in 1982, an area of 107,489 hectares of land and sea was subsequently declared by a Forestry Ministerial Decree in 2002 as the Taman Nasional Kepulauan Seribu (Thousand Islands National Park). Today this area is managed by the Forestry department and is the site of a Pride campaign run by Yuniar Ardianti.

Her campaign will strengthen the boundary marking for at least one of the no-take zones found within the marine protected area, enhance patrolling by greater engaging communities, as well as reduce incursions and facilitate improved reporting.

Her campaign will focus on the region’s fishers which make up about 10 percent of the archipelago’s population, as well as the wider community (to create new social norms) and community leaders. While the area as a whole faces multiple threats, in part due to its proximity to Jakarta, her campaign will focus on over-fishing, as a starting point for what will, it is hoped, become a broader campaign over time.

Writing on the threats facing  Taman Nasional Kepulauan Seribu, the World Resources Institute notes:

Domestic sewage, industrial effluent, and urban runoff from Jakarta threaten the southernmost portion of this area. Floating garbage is a problem, depending on prevailing winds. Ballast water discharges from boats result in tar being washed up on local beaches. Blast fishing, although outlawed nationally since 1920, still occurs as well as heavy ornamental fish collecting and major subsistence exploitation of marine resources. The islands are under pressure from developers seeking more tourism and recreational facilities to service greater Jakarta. There is no strategy to promote environmentally and economically sound expansion of this industry. Boat anchoring and diving have already damaged coral reefs. To encourage protection of the area, local residents, few of whom currently benefit from existing recreational development, need more economic options and increased participation in park activities (such as employment servicing the resorts). Oil and gas exploration, taking place within kilometers of the park, could pose a potential future threat.

Reefbase adds that the effect of El Nino and coral bleaching due to rises in the ocean’s temperature also threaten the area’s reefs:

 In the El Nino of 1997-98 …In the Seribu Islands northwest of Jakarta, 90 to 95 percent of the coral reef from the reef flat down to 25 m died. Two years later, the Seribu Islands had significant recovery, with live coral cover of 20–30 percent in 2000.


 Yuniar Ardianti and Asti Nurhidayati.

During my five day visit to Seribu, I would be accompanied not only by Yuniar, but also by Asti Nurhidayati (Yuniar’s mentor and Pride Program manager), as well as with Cohort Director, Eleanor Carter; and Rare’s new Vice President for Indonesia (Taufiq Alimi). We were to see first-hand some of the threats mentioned and able to spend time with the fishers themselves. By ferry, hired speedboat, park patrol vessel and even raft (!) we covered the islands from the far south to the very north – a distance of about 150 kms.

As with Mona and Valend, (cohort peers), Yuniar is several weeks behind schedule in the actual production and distribution of materials to promote the desired behavior change in her target audience and to rally them to the cause. Nevertheless, she has made real progress in their design. Over the course of the next several months Yuniar has billboards, posters, songs, sermon sheets and community visits planned. She has already drafted much of this collateral. I was particularly impressed at her draft “sermon” based upon texts in the Holy Quran. These would be used by Imams in the run up to the month of Ramadan.

We had the pleasure of accompanying Yuniar to several focus group meetings where she brought together fishers to review her slogan and poster drafts. Over several hours these groups provided fantastic input, which should really help ensure that the posters are relevant, easily comprehended and align with the stage of behavior change that the audience is at. While in Seribu a visit was made to a remote patrol post, where we heard first-hand the challenges facing those tasked with helping to enforce the rules and regulations (a lack of patrol vessels to cover the large area under their jurisdiction, limited supplies of fuel, limited communications and support). We also met with members of local communities who were committed to helping the official patrol officers and saw some of the recent reports of incursions.

A final highlight was seeing the mangrove re-forestation efforts being made, some of the best I have seen in my travels. I left amazed that so close to Jakarta are little fragments of Paradise lost in time….

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