Arrests at World Oceans Conference

Down to Earth No.80-81, June 2009

The first World Oceans Conference in Manado, North Sulawesi, was the scene of a police clamp-down on civil society in May, when two leading members of WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) were arrested and sixteen other people were deported. Parallel CSO activities had been organised to highlight the need to recognise and protect the rights of small-scale fisherfolk in international marine negotiations.

The arrests sparked an international protest campaign. Along with other international CSOs, DTE wrote to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono calling for the activists' immediate release and highlighting the need to prioritise the interests of the small-scale fisherfolk over those of big business.

WALHI's national executive director Berry Nahdian Forqan and head of WALHI's regional department were arrested on May 11th. They were charged with holding a demonstration without permission and sentenced to suspended sentences of one month, with 2 months probation. Sixteen international participants were deported to the Philippines. The police intervention came during a peaceful gathering to highlight civil society concerns about the World Oceans Conference (WOC), and the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) meeting, both hosted by Indonesia in the North Sulawesi city of Manado.

Within Indonesia protests in support of the WALHI staff and the CSO coalition, the Manado People's Alliance, were held in Jakarta, Jambi and Central Kalimantan, where seven activists were arrested and fined by local police.

Drowning climate justice

A group of Indonesian NGOs, including WALHI, had earlier issued a report critical of the WOC and CTI, called 'Evicting Fisherfolk, Drowning Climate Justice'. The report starts with a position paper, which casts doubt on the use of spending Rp44 billion in public money on the conference when there will be no legally binding outcome (the report says that the US and Australia have refused to sign up to a legally binding Manado Declaration).

It identifies three main dangers of being involved with the CTI too: threats to fisherfolk's right and sovereignty, entering into free trade conservation which threatens biodiversity and local peoples' survival and risks exacerbating Indonesia's fisheries crisis.1

The groups are also concerned about a proposed scheme to link carbon markets to the oceans, which is being developed without any participation by local communities.

A press release issued by the group in April said the conference should discuss the roots of national and global marine problems, starting from the principle of environmental sustainability and protection of fisherfolk's rights. It should also discuss how to impose legal sanctions on those causing the marine and climate crisis.

From 30-50% of Indonesian fisheries are traded illegally on global markets every year and 90% of the national shrimp catch is exported, said Riza Damanik of KIARA, one of the signatory organizations.

Among the causes of the crisis is the practice of dumping mine tailings in coastal areas and directly into the sea, said Siti Maimunah from JATAM. Newmont Nusantara Timur's Sumbawa mine uses the sea to dispose of its tailings, as did the US-based company's Sulawesi gold operation until recently.2 West Papua's huge Freeport-Rio Tinto gold and copper mine uses the mountain river system to channel its tailings to the coastal lowlands, and is dumping so much material that it is changing the coastal landscape.3

Neither mining, nor oil and gas exploration was on the WOC agenda for discussion. Nor were the customary rights of coastal communities mentioned in a draft declaration prepared in advance of the WOC.

WOC agenda

According to the conference website, the WOC is Indonesia's initiative to "create a more aligned global vision and commitments from participating governments and institutions to work together to improve marine resource management". The rationale is that the current legal framework that constitutes and governs the use of the oceans, The Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)1982, is out of date and does not take into account climate change, the effects of pollution or overexploitation of fisheries. The WOC is a "forum for the world community to discuss current issues in the marine field which are related to climate change, and how the world can wisely utilize the ocean to weather crisis."4

A draft Manado Ocean Declaration due to be finalised at the conference, expresses concern over the fragility of the world's marine ecosystems which face rising sea levels, increases in temperature and acidification due to higher levels of CO2, and changing weather patterns, all of which come on top of existing pressure from pollution, unsustainable fishing practices and population growth.

The Declaration commits signatories to implement long term conservation and sustainable management of marine resources to fulfil internationally agreed development goals including the United Nations Millennium Development Goals on human health, food security, poverty alleviation and disaster-preparedness, where these relate to the marine environment. It also commits signatories to share relevant science to improve understanding of the linkages between the oceans and the climate, stresses the need for financial resources for developing countries and includes sections on adaptation and mitigation, regional and international cooperation.5



As well as the WOC, Manado hosted the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) Summit on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Securities (May 11-15th).

According to the CTI, the 'Coral Triangle', covering 5.7 million km² is home to the highest diversity of marine life on earth and stretches across six countries: Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste. It contains over 75% of known coral species, over 30% of the world's coral reefs, over 3,000 species of fish, and the greatest extent of mangrove forests of any region in the world. These marine biological resources directly sustain the lives of over 120 million people and benefit millions more worldwide.6

CTI members are the countries located in the Coral Triangle and the initiative is supported by US-based NGOs The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, the US State Department and World Wide Fund for Nature.7


Climate Change threats

As the nation with the world's longest coastline, Indonesia's coastal areas face the threat of flooding, or even submergence due to sea level rises, as well as declining fisheries due to sea warming and acidification.

Research cited in the Economist magazine suggests that sea level rises could reach 80cm this century, but could plausibly be as high as 2 metres. The sea is 30% more acidic than it was 100 years ago due to an increased take up of CO2 into the sea. This change is affecting sea life, while warmer waters are leading to coral bleaching. An estimated 5% of the world's coral reefs can be considered pristine, a quarter have been destroyed and all of those left are vulnerable to the effects of climate change.8



1 Menggusur Nelayan, Menengelamkan Keadilan Iklim, Sisi Gelap & Bahaya di Balik WOC dan CTI by KIARA, JATAM, WALHI, KAU, SEAFish, KELOLA,KPNNI, Institut Indonesian Hijau, COMMIT, April 2009
2 See DTE 73 for background.
3 See DTE 69 for more details.
5 World Ocean Conference, 11-15 May Manado, North Sulawesi Province, Indonesia IOC UNESCO Paper No 2290 13/Jan/2009, via KIARA (Fisheries Justice Coalition).
7 For information about CTI, and a map of the designated area see
8 'Troubled Waters', The Economist, 3/Jan/09.