Educating Communities on Protecting Their Marine Resources

Surveys show a 69 percent increase in Raja Ampat communities that support preserving marine areas.

The Kalabia

Learn more about the Kalabia and the children of Raja Ampat.

Kalabia Song

Students are taught songs about marine conservation aboard the Kalabia.

Kalabia Song

Students are taught songs about marine conservation aboard the Kalabia.

"I am happy that my son was involved in marine education program. But I also learned something: that bomb fishing and cyanide fishing are not good for my catch." 

Mr. G. Mangar, from Deer village

By Hesti Widodo 

The 700 people of Indonesia's Deer village in Raja Ampat — nestled in the heart of the most biodiverse marine area in the world, the Coral Triangle — rely on the sea as their most important source of food and income.

While communities have traditional knowledge of their resources, the complexities of how marine ecosystems actually work remains a mystery to most of Deer's population — especially the link between fisheries and healthy coral reefs, which Deer's residents see as little more than stones on the bottom of the seabed.

That's why The Nature Conservancy in Indonesia is working with several partners to help the residents of Deer and other villages in the Raja Ampat Islands understand the marine resources upon which they depend — and to increase their involvement in managing them. And the program has already had a positive impact on local families' attitudes toward resource protection:

  • Surveys show a 69 percent increase in Raja Ampat communities supporting the idea of preserving marine areas.
  • Destructive fishing has virtually been eliminated from the Kofiau Marine Protected Area, which contains Deer and is designed to protect critical marine habitat while allowing for sustainable fishing.

“Educating these residents at all ages on the importance of coral reefs and sustainable fishing is essential for these communities," says Rili Djohani, the director of the Conservancy's Coral Triangle Center in Bali. "Teachers have learned about the sea and are developing a curriculum to teach their pupils — including a pride song that the children now sing about their amazing marine resources."

When Kids Are Learning, Parents Are Following

This education work is so crucial because the success of the Kofiau Marine Protected Area depends on the cooperation of the local communities.

But the complexities of marine protected areas — which the Conservancy has pioneered throughout the Asia-Pacific region — aren't easy to grasp for those who aren't marine biologists. Residents of Deer and other villages in Raja Ampat needed a learning bridge to understand and implement their responsibilities under the MPA — and the benefits they would reap from it.

So the Conservancy and its partners have gotten creative.

“We combine popular song, fun activities and games along with learning modules and materials to make people learn easier," Djohani says. "We're not putting aside the science of marine protected areas, but the modules and activities are designed to make people directly experience their nature, know it better and plan on managing the area."

The marine conservation education that has been implemented in most Nature Conservancy Coral Triangle sites targets elementary school students and fisherfolk. To complement their formal education about their marine resources at school in Raja Ampat, the students take to a 100-foot boat that serves as a floating classroom, jointly owned and run by the Conservancy and Conservation International.

Students spend three days on land and on the boat — listening to lectures, playing games, taking photos, painting on T-shirts, learning to become mangrove and seagrass detectives…and ultimately snorkeling in spectacular coral reefs. This Kalabia Marine Education Program module is designed to make real the connection between the beauty of the marine world and the importance of protecting it.

And by all accounts, it's working for both children and adults. “I am happy that my son was involved in marine education program — it was a great experience for him," says G. Mangar from Deer village. "But I also learned something: that bomb fishing and cyanide fishing are not good for my catch. Having our marine reserve will be a good way to help sustain my fish resources."

Selin, an eight-year-old girl from Deer village, is also inspired by the program — even though she hasn't been on the boat yet.

“I cannot wait to join Kalabia next year," she says. "I will be joining the program and becoming a Kalabia ambassador to know better my sea and tell people not to harm it. For the time being, I am happy to learn it from distance and learn the song, singing about how beautiful Raja Ampat's marine diversity is.”

Making Marine Education a Part of Every Curricula

The Conservancy has helped extend this education and outreach program throughout all the Coral Triangle protected areas in which it works. But one obstacle to more widespread adoption has been that teachers are scarce in Raja Ampat's villages — Deer, for instance, has only three.

So the Conservancy's Coral Triangle Center works with Indonesia's Office of Educational Affairs and Indonesia Locally Managed Marine Area (ILMMA) Network to provide training for teachers and village community organizers on managing marine resources and marine protected areas.

And through series of Conservancy-sponsored workshops, teachers have translated the Marine Protected Area concept into series of marine conservation education modules that will be officially part of local content curricula in Raja Ampat.

The Conservancy and Conservation International are also facilitating teacher networks called Blue Educators Networks — which enable teachers to meet, share and exchange ideas with other marine conservation educators and practitioners in Indonesia. The network provides great experience for teachers and help on developing various attractive education modules, including games and activities.

Maybe the biggest sign of how successful the Conservancy and its partners have been in integrating marine education into Raja Ampat's formal curricula is that knowledge of marine resources will soon be tested in mid-semester and final examinations throughout the district.

"By supporting education in Raja Ampat, this program greatly improves the capacity and skill of local people to manage their own resources," says M. Rumbewas, senior teacher at Deer's YPK Bethel Elementary School. "I hope this program will continue in order to ensure a high standard of education in Raja Ampat for the long term.”

While the Kalabia helps raise awareness from village to village, the Conservancy is also working at the highest levels of government to create better opportunities for marine conservation in the Coral Triangle. This effort took a major step forward on May 15, 2009 when leaders of all six Coral Triangle countries officially launched a Conservancy-supported effort called the Coral Triangle Initiative — an ambitious set of commitments and plans of action for combating overfishing and even climate change. 


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