I went home from a short holiday full of heartwarming experiences in Myanmar to an inbox full of updates on illegal fishing in the No-Take Zone of Komodo National Park. Yes, that Komodo National Park that has just been recently crowned as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
A few weeks before those raining e-mails, Michael Ishak, Cruise Director of Komodo Dancer ship who has made hundreds of trips to the area, sat me down and showed me photos and videos of fishermen using explosives or cyanide to kill their pray in Komodo Island’s most famous dive site. As a diver myself, I always remembered the waters of Komodo as a place where everything was colorful, and the images shown to me was coral debris.
The Most Unique Place on Earth
If I were asked about my favorite dive destination, I would definitely answer Komodo Island in a heartbeat. In fact, Komodo Island is on top of my list of the most beautiful places on earth I have dived in. Those who have tested the crystal-clear waters of Komodo Island for snorkeling or scuba diving would nod in agreement.
The park is home to the prehistoric Komodo dragon, but it is also a part of the bull’s eye of the world with respect to marine biodiversity. Located in the south of Indonesian archipelago, Komodo Island benefits from the current circulation from Australia that carries rich nutrition to attract and feed marine creatures. Thus, although Komodo Island is known as the Current City due to its occasional strong currents, the variety of marine life in this area is simply mind blowing: schooling fishes swarming colorful corals frequented by majestic pelagic ranging from sharks, mantas, tuna to dolphins. In short, the underwater world of Komodo Island is worth the adrenaline rush.
Famous for its wildlife and biodiversity, the Komodo National Park was established in 1980 and declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1991. Rangers started regular enforcement patrols in 1996. In 2001, about 30 percent of the park’s marine area, or 36,308 hectare of coastal waters, were set aside as a strictly protected No-Take Zone — an area set aside by the government where no extractive activity is allowed.
The Importance of No-Take Zones
The function of the No-Take Zone, or marine-protected area, is to supply fish to surrounding fishing grounds through migration of juveniles and adults, and to serve as a place where fish can reproduce. Therefore, No-Take Zones help to sustain fisheries in the surrounding waters. Destructive fishing is a short-term gain for a certain group of people and a long-term loss for many others.
“There has always been blast fishing in the park, off and on. Especially when there are no patrols or dive boats in the area. Patrols by the park and other authorities have made some arrests but new blast fishing operations have always come back to the No-Take Zones,” explained Dr. Jos S. Pet from The Nature Conservancy, who once managed Komodo National Park.
Fish are killed by the shock waves from the blast and are then skimmed off the surface or collected from the bottom by divers. These explosions not only kill large numbers of fish and other marine organisms, but they also destroy the physical structure of coral reefs. Fish sold at local markets in Labuan Bajo (Flores) and Sape (Sumbawa) are taken from Komodo Island’s supposedly protected waters. Fish from blast fishing is usually of low value and for local markets only.
When asked what made them fish in Komodo Island, one fisher replied, “Because there are no fish left elsewhere — everything has been fished out or destroyed. This is the only place left.” Other fishers even admitted they were allowed by the rangers to fish in the park. It is unclear how park rangers could have issued such permits.
The No-Take Zoning system, established in 2001, was endorsed again by the Director General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation in February 2012. This system has been legally issued under the Decree of Ministry of Forestry and supported by local laws (Perda) of Manggarai and Manggarai Barat.
No Law Enforcement
The local fishers have been made aware of the zoning system through socialization campaigns, supported by several NGOs and other organizations, in the past. Flyers have been designed and distributed, special training programs have been implemented, and fishers were directly approached and told about the zoning. Unfortunately, the Park Authorities have not sufficiently followed up with enforcement of the existing regulations. Therefore, fishers are ignoring the zoning and still fishing anywhere in the park. And sadly, there are not enough manpower to do regular patrols.
“I personally do not think that these blast fishing incidents are the most important problem. They are merely a result of not implementing and not enforcing the legal no-take zones in Komodo Island. When fishers are free to enter the park and fish on the reefs, then some of them will use destructive methods like blast fishing to get instant gains!” said Michael as he showed me pictures of Cannibal Rock, one of Komodo Island’s famous dive sites, being blasted by a group of environmental terrorists.
“This blast fishing is not about divers losing dive sites anymore. This is a serious attack on the environment that will effect a lot of people in the long run,” continued Michael.
“We have not seen a serious implementation and enforcement of the zoning system that the waters of the park are not truly protected and the No-Take Zones continue to be fished empty. Because of the open access, some fishers also continue to take bombs into the Park,” said Jos.
Blast fishing initially began throughout Indonesia in the early 1950’s using old ammunition from the war. Now, instead of using old ammunition, many fishermen use a homemade concoction of fertilizer (Ammonium Nitrate), which is very cheap and easy to do. On average, a 1-kilogram beer bottle bomb can leave a rubble crater of approximately 1-2 meters in diameter, killing 50 to 80 percent of the coral in that area.
The only thing we can do is ask the government to protect the park’s waters like they protect the land. Only the government can enforce the laws and the regulations regarding resources in the Park. The government may listen when the people, especially the Indonesians, demand they do their job.
Please do not be quiet and let your voice heard by taking part in saving Komodo from blast and cyanide fishing through a petition here: http://www.causes.com/causes/655885-save-komodo/actions/1630405