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- BLEACHING PICTURES 2016
PUKAT NETS, a disaster in the making
The most efficient way to clear fish off a reef, the "pukat" net, fined meshed, it takes everything in one go. Mixed emotion between respect for the artistry and cooperation needed to succeed in a good catch and the permanent damage in the fish population of that reef. Managed to make them promise to not do it again here. The question is: will the promise be remembered and honored? The answer is hidden in time.
State of urgency before the reef life comes to the point of collapsing
The increasing pressure that the reefs along the eastern coast of Bintan are facing is such that they now reaching the point of jeopardizing the biodiversity of the region.
Nikoi island, one of the most successful island resort's in the region attracts the expatriate community of Singapore and brings in an upper marker clientele from Europe, Australia... to the region.
Nikoi has a very positive effect on local community as the business generates employment and training, taxes incomes, community work in the villages with the establishment of a foundation, and most importantly an example of sustainable business practices to pave the road for a successful future.
None of this would be the same without the underwater world...
Posting underwater pictures on our Facebook page was a test to this as we received many positive reviews highlighting the sometimes-overlooked attraction that marine life creates on the psyche.
Unfourtunately, the reefs are now in serious danger of collapsing under the pressure of over fishing. Not only have big fish species disappeared from the area but practices such as net fishing also damage the coral reef habitat. Most of the fish that are caught are Grazers. These fish clean the reef from the algae allowing the hard coral to survive and thrive. Without them, algae would get the upper hand and eventually choke the coral reefs.
Bubu fishing and traps made out of wire mesh cause the reef ornamental species such as Butterfly fish and Angelfish to flee the area.
When placing traps, live corals brake off the reef.
The spear fishing activities that are lead by tourist operators are now removing Stingrays, Sweetlips from the reef. The species that can hide that can hide under cracks or ledges are being removed. They are not aware of what fish they shoot, as long as they shoot something.
They come with dive tanks, expensive imported spear guns and can hunt the deeper species which are hard to fish by the local spear fishermen who usually only target commercial species.
There is nowhere for the marine life to hide, and without protection it is only a matter of time before it is too late to have a fish population that can recover. We do need to act fast. There will be resistance from the local community who will understandably argue that they need to eat and make a living. Fishing communities have existed since hundred of years on the coast, hence a conversion to different activities is not easy. A seaman will not relinquish his sea life and the freedom that comes with it to become a waiter or a gardener. We are not trying to change that, we are simply keen on having an area free of harvesting activities to help the marine life recover.
Furthermore, issues such as climate changes, acidification of the ocean, over fishing of fish stock... make the issues that occur here almost futile. That being said without the local backup of the law, conversations and dialogues have lead to some understanding. But the motto “if I don’t get it, someone else will” becomes the mindset. And right now there are right. Convincing every single individual of the community would not only take time, but it could prove impossible to get everyone on bored. Especially since the benefit is not hard cash in the hand. The long-term benefits can be grasped, but the reality of feeding the children comes first.
The protection will only work and be beneficial if complete and enforced. The reef needs to become specie saturated first, and then the fish will travel further out to search for new territories, repopulating adjacent reefs and submerged boulders.
Why Nikoi and not another area?
This is an easy question to answer, as Nikoi's reef can be monitored thanks to the infrastructure that is already in place. The area is small enough to not overly disturb the fishing community leaving them plenty of other reefs to fish from.The area also has a wide range of different ecosystems prone to a bigger number of species and spawning area. To be really effective the protection should include a half-mile zone. The main point is to keep the Kelongs at a safe distance so that the juvenile fish and night species keep on surrounding the reefs. We can then observe the progress of the recovery. Students from the Marine University are starting to do field research papers. This helps keeping the knowledge within the local community and helps monitor the reef by locals, for locals. Nikoi provides the facilities and operational cost.
As it is the first time that this is attempted on the local level rather than relying on overseas researchers some errors can be expected. The idea is to learn from the process as well: Think globally, act locally! It is a "Gotong Royong" principle, one of the founding values of Indonesian culture. Establishing a protected marine area around Nikoi is the first step in trying to reverse a trend that is heading into a dead end. And time is of the essence before the marine life has collapsed beyond the recovery threshold. With that in place we then can have the legal ability to let anyone know that the area is off limits for the harvest of marine life.
Mooring blocks prevent the constant anchoring of our vessels, and are also used by local fisherman, reducing the impact on our house reef
Discarded fishing net get caught on our reefs, and with the watersport staff, armed with sissors and knifes, we carefully remove the nets that are chocking our reefs.
Fishtraps (bubu) education to local fisherman
We have been talking, sometimes successfully to the different groups of fisherman using the "Bubu" to stop breaking live coral to make their trap more attractive to fishes. The practice has definitely decreased, and the local authorities issuing the permits have alerted the fisherman. From direct observation the fisherman have been more conscious. A small victory in a big war against our biosphere.
A bubu fisherman at work.
While another group was fishing with a pukat net, we approached another boat bringing in their Bubu. Previously, most bubu were embelished with live coral broken off the reef to make it more attractive to the fish. Through persistent conversation, we have now seen that broken dead pieces of reef are now used rather than live ones. This is great news as the fisherman are paying attention, and showing respect.