Bali’s Falling Reefs

The Menjangan Island Coral Reef Project: Active Reef Stewardship

Symphony Reef Reconstruction

Wayan cleaning coral R 2014_DSC0580 copy 4

By Phil Dustan

Much of Indonesia lies within the Coral Triangle, an area of ocean containing over 75% of known reef-coral species and 40% of fish species. This biological richness sustains over 120 million Indonesians with food, shoreline protection, economic benefits from tourism, life-saving pharmaceutical compounds and additional ecosystem services.

_ags_757147Menjangan Island lies within Bali Barat National Park, established in 1941. In 1982, the sacred island was designated a marine protected area to save the reefs from blast fishing, coral mining, cyanide tropical fish collecting, and other abuses. In the mid 1990’s, local fishers were persuaded to switch from fishing to ferrying and now the island boasts some of the most beautiful reefs in Bali in largely due to this economic community-based shift.

The island is now accessed almost exclusively by licensed boats with local captains who ferry tens of thousands of Hindu worshipers on their annual pilgrimage to Puri Gili Kencana  at the northeastern corner of the island. The boats also support foreign tourists who snorkel and SCUBA dive. Business is booming with over 100 boats working from two ports servicing 200 or more divers/day that pay handsomely for the privilege of diving on Bali’s most beautiful coral reefs. The growing economic prosperity is dependent on the vitality of the corals reefs that surround Menjangan. The local divers and dive shops, hotels, and boats captains are well aware of this as one young captain explained to me on his boat during a break between dives, “If we don’t have a healthy reef I don’t have a job”. In response to this local economic need for conservation, the Biosphere Foundation founded Friends of Menjangan in 2010 to educate local children and their parents, many of who are boat captains and watersports tour guides, to help them become better environmental stewards of their environmental treasure.

On the last day of a research expedition in April 2011, a Biosphere Foundation dive team came upon a section of reef on the seaward (north) coast of Menjangan Island that was as perfect and beautiful a reef as any Symphony Reef 2012of us had ever experienced. We named it Symphony Reef because the reef was a magical cacophony of colorful corals and fish.

In June 2012, we discovered that large sections of the Symphony had been severely damaged from crest to drop off. The delicate foliose stony corals had been smashed into thousands of fragments, which were smothering corals as they cascaded downslope. Locals blamed anchoring by dive boats while others suggested blast fishing might have contributed to the destruction. We also found out that in the year between our visits many of the moorings we had installed around Menjangan Island had fallen into disrepair and were no longer being used. These findings catalyzed the Biosphere Foundation to institute a Mooring Buoy Team to install and maintain reliable moorings for the burgeoning dive industry of Menjangan Island. The Team, composted of talented local divers and funded by local hotels and dive shops, installed 31moorings on Symphony damageMenjangan Island and taught the local captains how to use them in 2014.

We returned to Symphony Reef in May 2014 and were heartened to find the fast growing lettuce corals rapidly repairing the damage. We also worked closely with the Team’s chief diver, Ketut Sutama on a survey of Menjangan deeper reefs to increase his involvement in the stewardship of his reef.. We taught him how to recognize and where possible rescue damaged corals from rubble, falling sediment and plastic entanglement. Sutama took a keen interest in the project and began to pass his new stewardship skills to his team to actively care for their reefs.

Then, on February 17, 2015 we received a message from a close friend and watersports guide at a major hotel in the area:

“Bad news about Menjangan Isand,

yesterday I went snorkeling at the Symphony Point and Coral Garden, first snorkles we start from Symphony to the east and finished at the Sandy Slopes, while we were snorkeling at the site we found two places of the coral reef just breaked by the bombing. I was very ungry and i asked the captain of the boat, he said if there were bombing in early morning around 10 days ago and a week ago at Dream Wall and Sandy Slopes sites. it was two days bombing in early morning before sunrise. no anyone there in early morning.”a Symphony Damaged_R_DSC1522

One of our worst fears had materialized. The most beautiful reef had been illegally fish bombed by rogue fishermen. Additional reports came in suggested severe damage to a large section of the reef, worse that the anchor damage of 2012(3). Fortunately, Symphony Reef is very healthy and has the resiliency to regrow. We’ve asked members of the Mooring Buoy Team to scour the site for any living corals that could be cleaned off or repositioned to prevent any additional mortality. We contacted the Manager of the Menjangan Resort to alert him to the efforts of the Team. A U.S. colleague has introduced us to a well-know coral farmer on Bali’s south coast who has agreed to provide local guidance to the Team. Resetting overturned live colonies and propagating new colonies from living fragments can dramatically improve the rate of recovery. Such an effort can also help build a greater sense of community awareness, stewardship and empowerment among the stakeholders whose economic well-being is linked to the reef.

The Biosphere Foundation and Trees to Seas is providing expertise and moral support from afar to galvanize the community into actively restoring Symphony Reef, and it is our hope is that the local dive shops and hotels will help provide support. But the endeavor will require funds to operate boats, provide SCUBA gear and air fills, and materials to secure corals to the reef (line, cement, epoxy, etc.). A donation of any amount will be given to the Balinese locals to help offset their reef restoration direct expenses. Please visit Trees To Seas and go to Current Projects to make a donation for ” Bali Divmaster Stewardship” project 

Phil and sutoma

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