As shrimp farms fail, mangroves make a comeback

by Melinda Chickering, Mangroves Action Project
Friday, 16 May 2014 11:45 GMT

Members of a women's group dig a tidal channel to help restore natural water flow to abandoned fish ponds and promote mangrove growth on Tanakeke Island, off the southern coast of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Photo: MAP

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Mangroves destroyed to make way for shrimp farms in Indonesia are coming full circle

Tanakeke Island, off the southern coast of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, once had extensive mangrove forests. But more than two-thirds of the mangroves surrounding the island were destroyed to build more than 1,200 hectares of shrimp ponds.

Now, with two-third of the shrimp ponds failing or now disused, that process is being reversed, with a surge of mangrove planting.

Heavy rains have contributed to severe flooding on the island with increasing regularly over the past few years, helping to push sea water over the dike walls surrounding shrimp farms, and washing the crustaceans out to sea.

Many others were killed by a virus at the turn of the century that slashed once substantial revenues from shrimp farming.

For more than 20 years, 57-year-old Haeruddin Daeng Ngenjeng, has farmed shrimp and milkfish in aquaculture ponds to supply the seafood export market that developed in the 1980s and 1990s.

But Haeruddin and many other villagers have now switched their focus to seaweed farming, which requires a considerably lower financial investment. Ropes tied to discarded plastic drink bottles float on the surface of the sea. Carageenan seaweed is draped over the ropes and floats just below the sea’s surface in the sunshine.

As incomes rebound due to seaweed cultivation, more people are engaging in mangrove restoration. Appreciation of their value as a buffer for coastal storms and as a habitat for wildlife is growing, and over the past five years, 400 hectares of mangroves have been rehabilitated.

Local efforts at rehabilitation began in the early part of the century after shrimp aquaculture began to wane, but it has picked up momentum since the arrival of Mangrove Action Project (MAP) Indonesia.

Villagers have been cooperating with scientists from MAP to implement Ecological Mangrove Rehabilitation (EMR), a multi-stage process pioneered by Roy Robin Lewis in Florida.

EMR efforts tend to succeed where other rehabilitation efforts have failed due to extensive pre-project assessments of local ecology, hydrology and community. Post-planting monitoring by the community and mid-course corrections based on their observations also help.

“Unfortunately, most mangrove rehabilitation projects worldwide are little more than publicity stunts, jabbing mangrove “seedlings” of one iconic species into the mud – usually below mean sea level, where mangroves never survive (they live between mean sea level and high tide),” according to Ben Brown, founder of MAP Indonesia.

“ EMR, on the other hand, offers a process of understanding what species of mangroves should be living in which locations, and addressing issues which are preventing them from naturally regrowing.”

MAP-Indonesia adopted the field-school model, which brings farmers together in training groups. Field schools have been operating in Indonesia successfully since the 1990s, initially focusing on rice cultivation.

Abdul Gaffar, head of the agricultural extension office, which works with farmers on implementation of agricultural technology, also applies the field school model to climate change adaptation.

The greatest adaptive resource at hand is the critical thinking skills of the locals, Gaffar said, and field schools develop habits of critical thinking.

“Long ago, farmers could adapt (to changing conditions),” Ratna Fadilah, a local project director at MAP said.

“The young generation is more interested in modern education than local wisdom. Perhaps a better balance between the two can be restored through the field schools.”

With healthier mangroves once again surrounding Tanankeke, MAP ecologists and villagers both expect improved fish stocks, the nutritional foundation of local diets. Villagers are also practicing more sustainable forestry management of their remaining and rehabilitated mangroves. Public notice boards encourage only selective cutting.

“You can see that [mangrove] rehabilitation is working,” said Iona Soulsby, a field ecologist from New Zealand with MAP who spent several weeks living and working with the residents of Tanakeke.

 “The community definitely understands the value of their mangroves. Community education is a big part of the rehabilitation efforts,” she said.