Four months after the 2004 tsunami roiled the Pacific Ocean, killing hundreds of thousands, destroying buildings and infrastructure and devastating coastal communities around Banda Aceh, Indonesia, Conservation International (CI) knew that, even with the massive international outpouring of financial support being directed to the region, something more targeted had to be done.
CI and Banda Aceh
As a working partner already in Banda Aceh, CI realized that many relief groups were focusing on immediate but short-term support to local governments and communities rather than rebuilding the ecological systems – and related economic opportunities – that would allow the people of Banda Aceh to thrive in the future.
A more holistic approach was required, and one that acknowledged that the effects of the tsunami were more devastating because natural buffers like mangroves had been destroyed.
Mangrove ecosystems – essentially forests standing in brackish water – provide ideal places for fish nurseries, protection of coastal areas from erosion, buffer protection from storms and flooding and naturally filtered water and air.
Many villagers depend on income gained from collecting crab, shrimp, fish and oysters from the mangrove forests. Many fisherman, primarily harvesting milkfish (Chanos chanos) and tiger shrimp (Pennaeus monodon) from manmade ponds, lost their livelihoods as well.
Still, it wasn’t always easy convincing local communities that the hard work of restoring mangroves was the right way to get their economy off the ground.
The Community of Deyah Raya
As Candrawirawan Arief, CI’s Community Engagement and Mangrove Specialist, puts it, “Working with local people is making us more patient and smart in many things: [It was] really hard to start the program in this area because we are not the first NGO to implement projects after tsunami.”
Many of those groups simply gave money; others endeavored to take a more comprehensive approach. CI did what it does best: crafting plans to help people by letting ecosystems thrive.
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In fact, CI started the project of replanting mangroves by getting local fisherman involved. Arief and Khairul Azmi, CI’s Aceh Coordinator, undertook an intensive community outreach process in and around Deyah Raya, a village in Banda Aceh.
CI helped local fisherman form a coalition that was committed to replanting mangroves as an ideal aquaculture habitat for milkfish and shrimp. Despite the diminished mangroves in the area, Deyah Raya was selected (in partnership with the Banda Aceh Agency of Agriculture) due to its combination of land and water quality, social conditions, and a lack of engagement by other international groups.
The people – from fishermen to those women dependent on collecting oysters and crabs – needed CI’s help.
And CI would get there any way it could.
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Arief continues, “When we initiated the program, the Aceh office had no vehicle. One time when I had to meet the local government, I used a bicycle but the rainfall and wind flowed so hard, I just stayed under the jasmine tree. And after the rain slowed I continued my ride, but just after I arrived at the Department of Fisheries, the official sent me a message that he cancelled the meeting and will meet me next day.”
Since it was just Arief and Azmi representing CI in Banda Aceh, there was no rest for the weary; Arief rode back the next day.
Mangroves, Shrimp, Milkfish and a Community
But the project slowly came to life. After significant communication and education, a group of farmers understood the importance of the mangroves and committed to replanting.
In coordination with Wetlands International’s Indonesian Program, over 10,000 mangrove seedlings were planted in fish ponds and community canals.
The ponds needed a lot of preparation before the milkfish and shrimp could be released, and a team of CI staff, local residents and other partners worked diligently to give the new mangroves a start.
IN PHOTOS: See the communities at work restoring mangrove forests.
Finally, the fish farmers’ coalition agreed to band together to sell the milkfish and shrimp around Banda Aceh, anticipating a new economic position of strength.
Arief goes on, “After all this, the program is on the right track. It’s not perfect, but it’s going well.” As of this fall, the project has planted almost 230,000 mangroves in 40 hectares (almost 99 acres) of ponds and two kilometers of river and canals – nearly 1.25 miles. The mangrove survival rate is at 70 percent, a good indicator for the program’s likely long-term success.
And by the early months of 2009, the first milkfish harvest will be underway.
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