Indonesia: Managing oceans sustainably supports our livelihoods

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Today is World Oceans Day and we celebrate the ocean and the livelihoods it underpins. Today is World Oceans Day and we celebrate the ocean and the livelihoods it underpins.

Today is World Oceans Day and we celebrate the ocean and the livelihoods it underpins. As an island nation, Indonesia has one of the world’s longest coastlines, boasting the highest diversity of corals and mangroves. These ecosystems are assets that sustain the nation’s economy, prosperity, and resilience in measurable ways.

Mangroves and reefs protect coastal communities from disaster, reducing the impact of tsunamis and floods. Marine and coastal ecosystems store “blue” carbon that helps Indonesia meet its climate change commitments and regulate the earth’s climate. They are home to thousands of coral and fish species.

Indonesia is second only to China as the world’s largest fishing nation, with a fishery sector that contributes over US$27 billion in gross domestic product and 7 million jobs. And these ecosystems are a basis for spirituality, personal enjoyment, and inspiration.

But with overfishing and coral reefs and mangroves destroyed, we take more from the ocean than can be naturally replenished. Thirty-eight percent of the country's marine capture fisheries are overfished, with a significant fraction of the domestic small-scale fishing fleet unmonitored and unregulated.  

Around one-third of Indonesia's valuable coral reefs are in poor condition. Mangroves are showing substantial loss driven by clearing for aquaculture, agriculture, and coastal development. And marine pollution – including mismanaged plastics waste from cities and towns – continues to impose high costs on the fisheries, tourism, and shipping sectors.

The government of Indonesia has taken steps to improve the conditions and sustainability of the oceans by joining the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy with 13 other countries globally and including objectives aligned with sustainable ocean economy principles in the National Medium-Term Development Plan (RPJMN). But there remains a great deal of work to do for the private sector, communities, and other stakeholders in Indonesia.

The World Bank’s recently launched Oceans for Prosperity report argues that the earlier mentioned challenges could be addressed with a sustainable ocean economy, or a blue economy. This approach supports the generation of economic and social benefits while ensuring oceans’ long- term environmental sustainability. Complementing government’s ongoing efforts, the report recommends blue economy actions in the following four areas.

First, improving the way we manage our fisheries to reduce overfishing. Indonesia has developed a fishery management area system to make decisions on harvest levels. Allocating budget and human resources, and developing management plans with clear harvest limits, are needed to strengthen this system.  

Indonesia can also scale up “rights-based fishery management” granting harvest rights to communities within their near-shore areas or firms for select quantities of catch within an overall harvest limit. These arrangements give fishers a stake in the management of their fisheries, encouraging good stewardship.

Second, conserving coastal ecosystems to support coastal resilience and livelihoods. The government has announced an impressive goal of restoring 600,000 hectares of mangroves. This could be complemented by measures that help prevent their loss in the first place, such as a mangrove conversion moratorium.

Indonesia could seek results-based payments for the carbon included in its massive mangrove estate’s biomass and soil and ensure these benefits reach coastal communities to generate incentives for continued mangrove management. 

Third, reducing marine plastics. We should change how we use and manage single-use plastics. The government has championed a National Plastic Action Partnership that brings stakeholders together to reduce marine plastics and develop a circular economy road map.   

In that context, the government could implement policies that encourage producers to take responsibility for their disposal of plastics and apply further taxes and bans to phase out non-essential plastic items. The private sector also plays a role by advancing plastic-free alternatives and partnering with communities for clean-up activities.

Finally, aligning COVID-19 recovery programs with the long-term needs of the ocean. This could include the promotion of cash-for-work for labor intensive coastal restoration (including mangrove restoration), coastal clean-up activities, and investments in much-needed village infrastructure.

We should not take the benefits of oceans for granted. The World Oceans Day prompts us to reflect on how individual and collective choices impact our oceans.  Their sustainable management is key to a prosperous economy in this archipelagic nation. 


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Satu Kahkonen

World Bank Country Director for Indonesia and Timor-Leste

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