Coastal communities want rights upheld

Down to Earth No.82, September 2009

Coastal communities have been marginalised by big business, as well as policies and legislation that favours large companies. They now face additional threats from the impacts of climate change.

In August, a coalition of fishing community representatives, NGOs and academics called for the needs and customary rights of coastal communities, and environmental sustainability to be put at the heart of coastal management in Indonesia.

The Lombok Statement, endorsed by twenty community organisations and NGOs, asserts that centuries-old customary law and traditional knowledge can make a significant contribution to just and sustainable fisheries and marine resources management.

The statement, issued at a workshop held from 2-5 August on Lombok, calls for the reversing of laws which lead to the privatisation of coastal resources, and their monopolisation by business interests. Parts of Law No. 27 of 2007 on Coastal Area and Small Islands Management and Regulation No.5 of 2008, issued by the marine affairs and fisheries minister, now revised and reissued as Regulation No.12 of 2009 on Capture Fisheries, are singled out as harmful to coastal communities' interests.

The statement also calls for the strengthening of customary law institutions through legal recognition and protection of customary law in coastal communities, and through documentation and publicity.

The workshop's title: "Customary institutions in Indonesia: do they have a role in fisheries and coastal area management?" was answered by the statement's call on the Indonesian government to: "Acknowledge and protect customary law and traditional knowledge that have been handed down from generation to generation, have become part of our nation's cultural identity and have helped in conserving and managing marine and fisheries resources. This can be achieved by recognising and integrating adat law and traditional knowledge into the national legal system, giving due consideration to diversity of value systems, national unity and gender equality."1

The statement also calls for priority to be given to sustainability and domestic fish needs and for effective prevention of illegal and unregulated fishing, and environmental violations by extractive industries. It ends with an appeal for support both in Indonesia and internationally for an economic model which is based upon people's needs, adat law and traditional knowledge which uphold social justice, equality and environmental sustainability.


Indonesia pushes Manado Declaration at Bonn Climate Talks

One task of Indonesia's delegation to the Bonn climate change talks in June, was to push for ocean-related issues to be included on the official agenda for December's global climate change summit in Copenhagen.

The Manado Declaration, agreed at the previous month's World Oceans Conference (WOC) in North Sulawesi in May, was highlighted at a side event co-hosted by Indonesia at the Bonn talks.

The WOC itself and the Coral Triangle Initiative, which met on the same occasion, had been lambasted by Indonesian civil society groups as a waste of public money, with an agenda which failed to address the root causes of marine resources destruction and climate change. Police action against prominent environmental activists at a parallel civil society meeting also drew strong criticism from Indonesian and international NGOs.2

At the Bonn side event, Indonesia drew attention to the need to mainstream oceans into the 2009 Copenhagen climate change talks and to promote affordable, environmentally sound and renewable ocean technologies particularly for developing countries.3

Before the June talks, Indonesia's environment minister Rachmat Witoelar was keen to promote the view that oceans should be regarded as means of mitigating climate change due to their carbon storage capacity. "We hope carbon mechanisms such as those regulating forests can be applied to ocean issues", he said, as quoted by the Jakarta Post.4

Indroyono Soesilo from Indonesia's marine affairs and fisheries ministry said the Manado Oceans Declaration had achieved its goal of having oceans included on the UNFCCC agenda. Five paragraphs were included in documents for the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA), including sections on an adaptation fund, monitoring, marine and coastal management, and the sharing of information.



"We believe that marine and coastal resources management should uphold environmental sustainability and social justice and gender equality, especially of marginalised members of coastal communities, including poor widows, neglected children and the permanently ill."

(Lombok Statement)



"It will bring us much more strength because now we have two advantages, forests and oceans," he was quoted as saying by the Jakarta Globe, adding that Indonesia had been referred to as the oceanic equivalent of the Amazon. 5

However, the lack of scientific knowledge about the role of oceans in storing and releasing carbon has prevented any reference to oceans' capacity to store carbon from being included in the draft AWG-LCA negotiating text.6


Communities vulnerable to climate change

Rising sea levels, more frequent and severe storms and more waterborne diseases are some of the impacts of climate change which make poor coastal communities particularly vulnerable.

According to Oxfam Indonesia, 20 million people depend on coastal and marine resources in Indonesia.7 Around 42 million people in the country live in areas less than 10 metres above the average sea level.8

In a 2005 study, the Asian Development Bank estimated that around 22% of Indonesia's population lives on the coast and about 60% on the coastal plains. It estimated that some 14 to 16 million people were directly employed in coastal and marine related activities and that the contribution of these activities - from both renewable and non-renewable extraction - was 20-25% of Indonesia's GDP.9

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that around 520 million people - or around 8% of the world's population - depend on fisheries and aquaculture as a source of protein, income or family stability.

A 2009 briefing for the Bonn talks describes how higher CO2 levels in the atmosphere are changing both air and sea surface temperatures, ocean acidity, sea levels and the intensity of tropical cyclones. Climate change is already causing changes to the distribution and productivity of marine and freshwater fish species.

As storms become stronger and more frequent, the need to protect mangroves in coastal areas becomes all the more urgent. These coastal ecosystems create barriers to destructive waves, hold sediments in place, reducing erosion.10 They also provide habitat, food and nurseries for fisheries - and a vital source of many food and non-food products for communities with the traditional knowledge to harvest them sustainably.


Outrage at WWF's Aquaculture Stewardship Council Plans

Human rights and environmental NGOs from around the world have protested against the planned launch of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, a body to certify the industrial production of shrimp and salmon. The aim is to reassure consumers that certified products are produced sustainably.

Over 70 groups wrote to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) criticising the scheme. The said it was influenced by vested interests of the aquaculture industry and failed to take into account the wishes of local communities and indigenous peoples who live alongside shrimp and salmon farms. The campaigners say that WWF has repeatedly rejected calls for meetings with representatives from affected communities in six aquaculture regions across the world.

Industrial-scale shrimp farming has devastated vast tracts of mangroves in Indonesia and other countries in recent decades, as the trees are cleared to make way for intensive aquaculture. The groups campaigning against the certification plans point out that mangrove clearance causes serious declines in biodiversity and wild fisheries, shoreline erosion and increased vulnerability to hurricanes and tsunamis. They also point to the massive quantities of carbon released when mangroves are cleared.

A global network of civil society organisation is demanding a moratorium on further expansion of industrial aquaculture development. The letter to WWF ends with a demand that the conservation NGO halt the certification initiative and "immediately initiate real and meaningful dialogues with affected communities, not just with industry and a few NGOs and academics. There is still a great need for strict social and rights-based standards, not just environmental and technical fixes initiated at the aquaculture farm level."11

Scientific research carried out in Indonesia to assess the effectiveness of certification schemes on farmed shrimp found systematic problems and concluded that "these systems may never fulfil any of their overarching objectives such as long term sustainability or reduced consumption of non-certified shrimp."12

For more background on Indonesia's shrimp industry and coastal communities, see Asia Solidarity Against Industrial Aquaculture,, the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, Mangrove Action Project, KIARA, DTE 58, DTE 51 and DTE 45 and also DTE 45.






1 The Lombok Statement, ICSF [International Collective in Support of Fishworkers] Workshop on "Customary institutions in Indonesia: Do they have a role in fisheries and coastal area management?", 2-5 August, Lombok. Endorsed by 21 Indonesian organisations from Aceh to Maluku in eastern Indonesia. The workshop was also attended by organisations from neighbouring Southeast Asian countries.
2 See DTE 80-81 for more background. The Manado Declaration was sign by 76 countries and 11 international organisations. It can be viewed at
3 [accessed August 28]
4 The Jakarta Post 4/Jun/09
5 'Manado Pact Called Toothless', The Jakarta Globe: 20/Jun/09
6 For the draft text [June 22, 2009 version] see
8 IIED, 2007. Climate change: study maps those at greatest risk from cyclones and rising seas. London, International Institute for Environment and Development
9 ADB Indonesia: Country Environment Analysis 2005,
10 Climate change talks mustn't forget fisheries, say international groups, FAO, 1/Jun/09.
11 News release; Worldwide Protest Against WWF's Plans to Launch Aquaculture Stewardship Council, 14th May 2009, via Rettet den Regenwald.