Blue diamond for Jokowi-Kalla maritime axis is perilous

Blue diamond for Jokowi-Kalla maritime axis is perilous

A peper in Jakarta Post, September 10, 2014

Indonesia is waiting for president-elect Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo and vice president-elect Jusuf Kalla to get on board. In looking for a new breakthrough in national income and resources for people'€™s livelihoods, the pair has on various occasions proposed a maritime-axis concept.

The message became brighter when they delivered their midnight victory speech on July 22, on a phinisi (schooner) at the old Sunda Kelapa Port.

The economic potential of Indonesian waters is indeed (still) huge. It stretches from oil and mineral resources, fish products, tourism and bioethanol synthesis, to potent natural drugs. Most resources are unexplored, but ironically they are in peril too.

Our comprehensive understanding of the axis includes a huge and rapid sea-transportation system, which Jokowi calls an '€œocean toll road'€, a strong navy, modern fishing ships, monitoring outer layer islands and an exclusive economic zone, up to fish product processing plants.

In targeting higher national income and exploring the biomass products of the ocean, Indonesia'€™s richness in biodiversity should be considered carefully in the implementation of the axis. This country is known to harbor the most diverse biomass on earth.

The biomass forms a complex ecosystem, in which all elements are strongly interlinked with each other and which, in the end, influences products that support the lives of people. This is how we should interpret the natural richness in terms of people'€™s livelihoods.

What we mean by biodiversity is the variety of all living organisms, plants, animals and microbes, including their genetic structure and the ecosystems they form. Globally, Indonesia is the bull'€™s-eye of the world'€™s coral triangle. We at the Indonesian Biodiversity Research Center (IBRC) have come up with a postulate that this coral triangle is the center of generation of global marine biodiversity. In other words, the ancestors of the world'€™s marine plants and animals were born in Indonesian waters.

Our biodiversity is fragmented and unique. Each area has its own diversity. From the genetic data of fish and boneless animals (invertebrate), we estimate that our marine ecosystem has existed for millions of years, enriched by local currents. These then form imaginary breaks or invisible walls in Indonesian waters.

As published in the international Journal of Marine Biology on, we conclude that the genetic structure of fish, coral and boneless animals is different across those walls.

The species might be the same, but each has its own ancestors.

From that point of view, Indonesian waters are composed of at least six different areas '€” so-called management units.

Population decline in one area is non-substitutable. The areas are Western Sumatra, Java'€“Bali'€“Nusa Tenggara, Kalimantan'€“Eastern Sumatra, Sulawesi'€“Maluku, Papua'€™s Bird'€™s Head Peninsula'€“Halmahera and Cendrawasih Bay.

Indonesia'€™s natural marine resources are indeed a blue diamond. World Bank data tells us that Indonesian fisheries contribute to 5 percent of global production, which equals US$20 billion annually. The figure would be even greater if we added the economic loss due to illegal fishing, which could reach a value of $8 billion.

Moreover, the underwater paradise supports the growth of Indonesian tourism with a value of more than $25 billion yearly.

This already-harvested capital is even higher than the national income from the oil and gas industry. The 2014 state budget set the crude oil lifting target at 870,000 barrels per day, with a value of $33 billion annually at a price of $105 per barrel.

Pharmaceutical invention in marine biodiversity remains underexplored, while the market is huge. For example, sales of HIV drugs across the United States, Europe and Japan reached $11.8 billion in 2008-2009 alone. Antibiotics demand will exceed $40 billion in 2016 according to Transparency Market Research. If an effective drug could be invented from marine organisms in Indonesia it would generate billions of dollars in national income.

The pharmaceutical treasures are unlimited. Microbes, viruses, plankton, algae, sponges, cnidarians, bryozoans, mollusks, tunicates, echinoderms, coral, mangroves and a lot more could produce valuable substances.

Their use in medicine extends from anti-infection (bacteria, virus, malaria, etc.), anti-diabetic, anti-ageing and anti-stroke to cancer therapy.

Discussion of a return to the sea is actually not new. Former governments expressed their interest in exploring and exploiting marine resources for people'€™s welfare. However, in our understanding, none of them really put major investment into the area. Fisheries seem to grow under autopilot mode.

The strong message at Sunda Kelapa signaled that Jokowi and Kalla want to make a difference.

However, they must be aware that Indonesia'€™s marine biodiversity is not healthy at all. Our data shows that more than 30 percent of Indonesian coral is severely destroyed.

High-value fish such as tuna, shark, napoleon and grouper are depleting and some species are almost extinct due to various reasons, including overfishing.

The new government needs to update valid fisheries'€™ data before it can initiate sustainable exploration. Pro-sustainability policies could include regulations on catch seasons, fishing gear, zoning or even a moratorium on no-catching at certain times.

To provide good quality data, the country has to establish strong marine research infrastructure with qualified scientists. Young researchers can be recruited and trained well in collecting and analyzing the data. The infrastructure and human resources must have the capacity for potential natural-drug invention.

International collaboration is needed to speed up the process and ensure internationally accepted


The writer is a professor at Udayana University in Bali and is the head of the Indonesian Biodiversity Research Center (IBRC) '€” initiated by Papua University in Manokwari, Diponogoro University in Semarang, Udayana University, the University of California in Los Angeles, the US, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, the US '€” which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development Indonesian Office.