Enhancing Our Marine Life
Over 1.3 billion people — one fifth of humanity — mostly in developing countries, live in coastal communities bordering tropical seas. These waters host a wide array of ecosystems that are subjected to an equally diverse set of human impacts by societies with different traditions, beliefs, expertise and governance styles. Many of these communities depend greatly on coastal ecosystems for food and livelihoods.
Ms. Sutra Anjani (Marine Biologist from The Nature Conservancy Indonesia)
ARKdesign Quarterly (AQ): Do you remember a certain revelation that took you from merely appreciating marine life to feeling compelled to protect it?
Sutra Anjani (SA): Yes, I have been a scuba diver since I was 14 years old. As a kid I dive with my father and his friends. During these amazing dive trips, I used to hear my father and his friends mentioning how some dive sites used to have more corals and fish. How a regular dive site that barely have visitors now used to have 3-m Napolean wrasse swimming around, how a site used to have countless sharks and ray or a fan coral as big as a car and more.
And when I visited these sites myself, I don’t see those things my father mentioned to me in his stories anymore. That is when I decided to pursue marine biology as my major and career so I can be involved in preserving our ocean.
AQ: What are the three most pressing issues facing marine life today?
SA: It is hard to pick the top three pressing issues because there are so many crucial and alarming issues happening to our oceans right now. I would think it is the issue with marine debris, especially plastic trash. Plastic trash not has just polluted our oceans but it has also killed the animals living in it.
There have been so many cases of animal entanglement due to drifting discarded nets or fishing lines that can serious injuries and even death to marine animals. Consumption of plastic trash that some animal mistaken for food is also a known cause for animal death. And even worse, now plastic pollutants have gone into our food chain where plastic fragments can also be found in our seafood. The second pressing issue would be overfishing where fish populations in our oceans are constantly fished with no regulation on catch size. With the absence of size regulation, fishermen will keep fishing juvenile fish and this will in turn cause a rapid decline of the population because these fishes are caught before reproduction maturity, thus preventing regeneration. The third pressing issue of course would be climate change.
AQ: Ocean acidification and coral bleaching have been getting a lot of press lately, and place our oceans and marine life in peril. Please explain the causes and effects of these phenomena?
SA: Ocean acidification and coral bleaching are both caused by the warming our climate. Our ocean works as a buffer to the release of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere due to human activity. The ocean absorbs CO2 and when the concentration of CO2 increases, the pH level of the ocean decreases.
This is what we call ocean acidification. The effectof ocean acidification can be devastating, low pH in seawater will inhibit coral growth. Without coral reefs so many marine species will be left without a home and the protection they needed to survive. Coral bleaching is caused by increase in temperature.
Corals are sensitive to temperature where they can only thrive in a certain range of temperatures. That is why we can only see vibrant coral reefs in tropical waters where the temperatures are not too hot nor too cold. However, with the trend of global warming, some parts of the world’s tropical oceans have become warmer and warmer. When it becomes too hot, the cells within the corals that give corals their color can no longer function, and as they stop functioning the corals turned white. If this condition persists, the coral will eventually die.
AQ: Other marine scientists have gone on record to warn that our oceans could feasibly collapse within fifty years. Is the health of our oceans really in such dire straits?
SA: Yes, the condition is clear. We don’t have to be a scientist to see that the condition of our ocean has worsened and if we don’t change our ways one day our ocean would not be able to provide us with the necessities we need to survive.
AQ: Would you mind share about the marine life conservation project of which you were a part? Why is the project important? Did you learn anything during this project that people would be surprised to know?
SA: In The Nature Conservancy Indonesia, my role is to design conservation monitoring and marine planning programs. Starting last year, my main project has been to develop a sea turtle conservation program in Rote Island, East Nusa Tenggara.
The main challenges we encountered in Rote were illegal poaching of sea turtles by the local people, as well as inappropriate sea turtle conservation efforts by the local government. This project is important because Indonesia is home to 6 out of 7 known sea turtle species in the world.
This fact alone is a good enough reason for us to engage in sea turtle conservation and more importantly to involve local communities in the process. Moreover, 5 out of 6 sea turtle species in Indonesia is already listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The existence of sea turtles is crucial for the health and balance of our key marine ecosystems such as coral reefs, seagrass, and more.
Through this project, we implemented a community-based sea turtle conservation program. We involved local villagers and local university students in conducting daily sea turtle monitoring. We utilize existing traditional laws of coastal villages to develop regulations for sustainable marine resource management in the area, including the protection of sea turtles.
Sea turtle protection under the National Law was proven ineffective in these remote islands, whereas revitalizing local traditional laws by instilling conservation features into them was shown to be far more effective. This has been proven today in a few villages in Rote where poaching has decreased significantly.
AQ: What can the average person can do to ensure the future health of our oceans?
SA: I think nowadays it is very important to educate ourselves and expose yourselves about current environmental issues. This information is now readily available in various public websites. By becoming more aware, we will be more incline to position ourselves as being part of the solution.
It can be from something small for instance reducing your daily plastic usage, carpool or use the public transportation to work to reduce greenhouse gas emission, throwing you garbage in the appropriate place because all waste ends up in the ocean.
Also when we are well-informed we can avoid purchasing unsustainable products that are actually destroying the environment such as buying illegal accessories from sea turtle shells or eating illegal sea turtle eggs, consuming shark fin, an industry that is destroying our marine ecosystem. All these little things will matter when enough people in the world do it.