In the waters off Indonesia’s West Papua province, you’ll find remarkably vibrant sea life, including corals of all kinds. Here, in an area called the Bird’s Head Seascape, you’ll also often find “Erdi,” CI’s Science and Monitoring Coordinator for the Raja Ampat program, Muhammad Erdi Lazuardi.
Lazuardi is responsible for monitoring and creating a database of reef health and activities in Raja Ampat, one of three conservation sites in Bird's Head. This vast area of islands, cays, and shoals is home to the highest-recorded marine diversity on Earth.
A Coral Reef Conservationist is Born
Like many conservationists, Lazuardi’s passion for reefs was sparked as his knowledge of them grew. “I was studying Marine Science at Bogor Agriculture University in West Java,” he relates, “and I joined a scientific diving club call ‘Fisheries Diving.’ I got to see some beautiful reefs and some damaged reefs up close. I started to love coral reefs and wanted to take part in their conservation.” Lazuardi later graduated with honors.
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When Lazuardi was a child, his parents often gave him adventure comics and popular scientific magazines, but “none of them thought that when I grew up, I would work for conservation.” Today, he is a trailblazer, leading coral reef conservation in a place where there are few Indonesian coral taxonomists. Lazuardi credits his family and mentors, including CI scientist Mark Erdmann, with his ongoing growth and success.
A Healthy Reef is a Healthy Economy
When Lazuardi first joined CI in 2005, part of his job was to educate people on how the reefs relate to the environment—and how they affect the lives of local people.
“Reefs help prevent beach erosion and create a natural barrier from tsunamis,” he says. “But the message that hits home most with local people is very simple: ‘No coral, no fish.’” Since reefs are a nursery, feeding ground, and home for fish, they help to sustain fisheries and the livelihoods of local fishermen, in addition to drawing income from international tourism.
“One reason why fishing catch is decreasing year after year in many areas is because the coral, as a fish home, is damaged,” relates Lazuardi. “That is one important reason why we need to protect coral reefs.”
The costs to communities are high if reef health goes ignored, but fortunately, recovery is possible. “Before I joined CI, I took part in coral rehabilitation in Serangan Island, Bali, as a volunteer,” Lazuardi relates. “At that time, the reef was severely damaged by a beach reclamation project. Serangan Island now has an artificial reef and supports local fishermen’s livelihoods.”
Reefs in Peril
Coral reefs are threatened on many fronts. Natural forces that can damage reefs—such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes—are just part of the picture.
“Threats to coral reefs are also coming from potassium cyanide fishing, sedimentation, home waste, and industrial pollution,” says Lazuardi. “In other words, from human activity.”
Even climate change is causing reef declines, resulting in coral bleaching and die-off. Lazuardi’s monitoring program looks for climate change impacts on reefs and identifies those reefs that are most resilient, so they can be prioritized for conservation.
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“I am glad to report that there is no mass coral bleaching in Raja Ampat so far,” he says.
Benefiting from CI’s Blue Auction
CI has taken a strong role in recognizing the importance of reef conservation, and Lazuardi has been directly connected to this work. Proceeds from CI’s Blue Auction, which raised funds by auctioning off naming rights for previously unknown marine species found in the Bird’s Head region, enabled him to make contributions to science and expand his knowledge. “I had the opportunity to bring a coral specimen from Bird’s Head to the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Australia,” he says “At the same time, I got coral taxonomy training.”
Lazuardi’s experience at the Museum of Tropical Queensland inspired him to take on new challenges. Very few books about corals exist in the Indonesian language, and the country hosts only a modest coral specimen collection. But Lazuardi seeks to change that. He is now pursuing advanced degrees in coral taxonomy and is working to emulate the Australian museum within Indonesia.
A Dream for Indonesian Conservation
Coral conservation in Raja Ampat faces many obstacles. The area is immense, and while monitoring methods for coral and fish are increasingly more reliable, they still take a great deal of work. Plus, Lazuardi and his colleagues are facing a new challenge: The field station where they carry out their research will have to be moved, since local investors want to utilize the current field station location for a resort.
Despite these challenges, Lazuardi pushes forward. Using his own free time, Lazuardi is working to design a new field station.
“I have a dream that the field station will be a place for elementary students to learn about coral reefs and have fun. It will be an educational place where university students and scientists, especially from my country, do research,” he relates. “I envision that the station will have a small museum of traditional fishing gear from Raja Ampat, a coral specimen collection, and a laboratory, combining local and modern knowledge.”
Lazuardi is proud to advance CI’s mission. “I hope always to be involved in coral reef conservation,” he says, “to better the environment and human well-being. Having even a small impact doing the smallest thing is a great reward.”
READ MORE: Protecting our Oceans and Seas