Submitted by Reef Check Coordinator Abigail Moore
Photos: Abigail Moore
Since the “Reefs at Risk in South East Asia” study placed most reefs in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia in the High Risk category, several surveys have revealed that, indeed, reefs here at the heart of the Coral Triangle are under heavy pressure from human activities. It is ironic that in spite of a coastline exceeding 4,500km -- most of which was originally fringed by thriving coral reefs, seagrass and mangroves -- the majority of the population is still unaware of the key role these coastal ecosystems play in supporting livelihoods and coastal protection. As in many other parts of the world, the majority of the population lives in the coastal zone. Citizens expect the sea to absorb waste and provide an unending supply of fish, as it has done in the past. This is especially evident here in the fjord-like Palu Bay, surrounded by largely deforested but still majestic mountains, where the Provincial Capitals Palu and Donggala (the Capital of Donggala District) occupy much of the lower-lying land. Despite rising urban populations and modernization, the Bay also retains a considerable fishing community with artisanal and semi-modern fishing fleets.
People here are proud of their homes (Rumah) and front yards (Halaman Depan), ensuring that they are clean and well-tended (although the back yard may be a real mess). Therefore the students and staff of the Palu Fisheries and Marine Higher Education Institute (STPL-Palu), together with local environmental NGO Yayasan Palu Hijau (YPH), have adopted the motto "Lingkungan Laut Halaman Depan Rumah Kita – The Oceans are our Front Yard" since joint Earth Day activities began in 2006. We hope that eventually people here will come to care about and look after their coast as if it was their own "front yard". In 2008 we were fortunate to receive support from the Central Sulawesi Fisheries and Marine Service, as well as from the participants, including students and staff from Tadulako and Alkhairaat Universities and other concerned individuals, as well as the core team from STPL and YPH.
In accordance with our motto, the first task at our chosen site for 2008 in Baiya Suburb on the North Coast of the Bay was to clean up this stretch of our "front yard". We collected trash from above the high tide line to a depth of 10 meters on foot, snorkeling, and using SCUBA equipment. We estimated the trash collected by a task force of over 80 people to be around two tons, consisting mainly of plastic packaging, with a considerable number of disposable nappies and other household waste. Most was non-biodegradable, potentially hazardous to human health (e.g. to local children playing in the sea and fishers), or both.
In this second IYOR, our Earth Day activities paid special attention to the coral reefs. We carried out a Reef Check survey, a PADI AWARE Fish Count and Coral Watch bleaching monitoring. In addition, we surveyed the seagrass beds and the remaining mangroves, the latter with the goal of producing technical recommendations for replanting, as this is one site proposed for mangrove rehabilitation efforts.
From our experience in 2006 and 2007, we came prepared to control COTS (Crown of Thorns Starfish, Acanthaster plancii) the poisonous starfish which is a voracious predator of coral reefs. Indeed, the reefs at Baiya were under attack from a COTS population explosion, and we collected hundreds of these plate-size predators using simple bamboo tongs, mostly by reef walking and snorkeling as relatively few were seen below 3m depth. We took care not to get pricked and to avoid injuring the COTS, as this could induce them to release their gametes.
Our survey revealed damage from sedimentation to both the seagrass beds (intertidal area) and the coral reefs (almost completely buried below 9-10m depth), not surprising in view of the degradation of the now mainly bare mountains above the site. Direct impacts to the reef included recent (in the last month) ornamental fish collection (use of poisons and physical damage), coral mining, anchor damage (from stone anchors used by artisanal fishers, severe around 6-10m depth) and mechanical damage which was not recent and the cause could not be clearly determined. However the most severe recent damage was from the COTS outbreak.
Populations of commercially valuable fish and invertebrates, as well as those used for subsistence were very low, with most Reef Check indicator species absent. The biodiversity of fish and shellfish was also surprisingly low in relation to the coral condition which still provided much unused habitat. It seems likely that the main cause is chronic overfishing. Although none were found at Baiya, it is worth noting that Banggai cardinalfish, Pterapogon kauderni, were seen less than 2km away a few days earlier. An ornamental species endemic to the Banggai Archipelago on the far side of Sulawesi Island, this species has been released by traders at several locations in Palu Bay and is one of our AWARE fish survey species.
Clearly both waste management and watershed restoration are needed to address the major indirect impacts. Addressing direct impacts requires improved enforcement of laws banning poison fishing and coral mining, and regulation of resource use. Overall, the data reinforce the rationale for developing a comprehensive monitoring programme for the Bay (baseline data from 2002/3 and some monitoring data from 2006/7 are available) as part of an integrated management approach. In addition, the COTS outbreak, one of several in recent years in Palu Bay, indicates the need for a COTS control system. The team hopes that a wide range of stakeholders can be involved in such initiatives, most likely through the Central Sulawesi Konsorsium Mitra Bahari (Sea Partnership). An article highlighting some of the main points was published in the main local newspaper.