Jord commits $290,000 for marine conservation project

Indonesia’s Bintan Island may lie adjacent to the busiest shipping lane in the world. But its tropical waters, miraculously, support an extraordinary variety of underwater habitat. These in turn provide a nursery for the likes of dugongs, dolphins, otters, turtles and many hundreds of fish species.

As with most marine environments, this habitat is under siege due to over-fishing, pollution and high sedimentation from adjacent illegal mining & forest clearing.

Jord’s Foundation team has uncovered one of those rare opportunities to get in on the ground floor of what will become an environmental program of international renown. An 1,815sq km area, over two times the size of Singapore, has been designated a Marine Protected Area. Jord has signed up as a founding partner, committing $290,000 over a three year period. Two stages of this program are now complete. The first entailed a detailed marine survey, lead by Conservation International’s (CI’s) marine biologists’ Dr Mark Erdmann and Dr Gerald Allen. This survey identified an extraordinary 425 different fish species, including multiple rare ones & a few totally new to science. It also established areas where the habitat requires a high level of protection, and others that can support sustainable fishing for the local villagers.

The 2nd stage involved engaging with a team from the Indonesian Government, universities and the local community and eco-resorts, to establish a management plan that not only protects the marine environment,but also provides long term sustainable development for local communities.

With these two stages now complete, our attention is focussed on executing the management plan. Just as we do with our Bush Heritage collaboration, there will be lots of opportunity for Jord staff to directly participate in supporting this Bintan MPA project over the coming years. This is a very special part of the world. And – once this pesky virus abates – being located so close to Singapore makes it readily accessible to us all. In addition to the 425 species of fish, you might see green sea turtles, hawksbill, turtles, dugongs, irrawaddy dolphins, otters and for the true believers, endless numbers of marine invertebrates,molluscs and crustacea – some unique and endemic to this area. Accomodation is not unacceptable either,with a number of island based eco-resorts operating within the MPA.

Jord funds establishment of Bintan Marine Protected Area

The commitment comprises AUD $290,000 of funding over a three-year period as well as pro-bono support services from Jord staff. It represents a significant milestone for this initiative to protect critical marine and fishery resources in the country.

The Indonesian Ministry of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs formally established the Bintan Marine Protected Area (Bintan MPA) in Riau Islands Province by signing the Decree on March 18. It was officially enacted in the Government Gazette on April 5, 2022.

This initiative has been led by the Marine and Fisheries Agency of the Riau Islands Province with partners including Konservasi Indonesia (a national foundation) as Conservation International’s main partner in country, and an emerging local not-for-profit on Bintan Island named Yayasan Ecology Kepulauan Riau (YEKR) comprising residents of Bintan who had already been organising community conservation initiatives. Jord’s funding will be used to support this effort.

There is plenty here to protect. The natural shoreline around the islands in the MPA is relatively undisturbed and the coastal waters support reefs of spectacular colour and diversity. Currently, 109 birds, 12 mammals, 21 reptiles, 276 marine fishes, 202 marine invertebrates, and 62 plant species have been recorded on or around the islands. Two species of sea turtles have been documented: the green sea turtles EN (Chelonia mydas) and the rarer hawksbill turtle CR (Eretmochelys imbricata). Also present are dugong VU (Dugong dugon), Irrawaddy dolphins EN (Orcaella brevirostris) and Asian small-clawed otters VU (Amblonyx cinerea). These ecological assets represent a significant tourism revenue opportunity for local communities as travel resumes in the region.

The existence of this MPA will preserve existing marine and fishery resources that contribute to the surrounding communities’ welfare and align with the Province Government’s mission to ensure the ecological sustainability of further maritime-based economic development.

Starting with an initial rapid marine assessment in 2020, the Province Government of Riau Islands and partners conducted community consultations and multiple rounds of detailed planning and negotiations to arrive at a newly established MPA of 138.5K hectares with support from national government and local communities.

However, the establishment of the MPA is not the end of the road. From this point, the team will embark upon a new phase of work focused on strengthening the Management Body of the MPA, establishing the Management Plan, and ensuring that the MPA is properly protected. The vision and expectation is for local communities to derive a net benefit from the MPA though new and sustainable sources of income.