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Bali, Indonesia: Hope in Paradise

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By Alya B. Honsasan

IT was serendipitous that an important meeting of Coral Triangle partners was going on in Bali at the same time we visited, as scientists, conservation experts, and government representatives from all over the world gathered to work out plans of action. That meant that a whole battery of experts was ready and able to talk about their areas of responsibility, from the live reef fish trade to climate change and even the whole confluence of efforts. In the words of Kate Newman, Managing Director of the WWF US Coral Triangle Program, this kind of cooperation and speed of action was “unprecedented.” After all had been said and done, it was great to know that people knew what they were working for, and were willing to do what had to be done.

We came face to face with a lot of hope in Bali. There’s the hope one finds in commercial fishermen like Heru Purnomo, still young but already passionate about making sure sustainable fishing becomes the norm.

Heru Purnomo's Pulau Mas live reef fish trade operation in Benoa, BaliHeru Purnomo’s Pulau Mas live reef fish trade operation in Benoa, Bali

Heru is straightforward about his agenda—he wants to make sure he doesn’t run out of fish to catch, as his enormous business of 38 fish cages all over the archipelago is supplied by over 10,000 fishermen, and accounts for 50% of the live reef fish exported from Indonesia. Heru’s spanking clean operation, Pulau Mas, is as high-tech as they come, with styrofoam boxes of coral trout shipped out regularly to Hong Kong and mainland China.

Pulau Mas efficient assembly line of packing live reef fish for delivery to Hong Kong Pulau Mas’ efficient assembly line for packing live reef fish for delivery to Hong Kong Bright red live coral trout quickly transfered to styrofoam boxes for export to Hong Kong  Bright red live coral trout quickly transfered to styrofoam boxes Boxed, aerated and kept cold, live coral trout makes a journey to Hong KongBoxed, aerated and kept cold, live coral trout make a journey to Hong Kong

The hardworking Heru, who is in contact with his people by radio every single day—“I haven’t gone on a vacation in three years,” he says with a laugh—buys only from fishermen who use hook and line fishing to make sure his suppliers fish sustainably, and rejects any fish below a certain size to make sure no juveniles are caught. He laments the fact that commercial fishermen have bombed and cyanide-fished their way through western Indonesia, and is worried they might be wreaking havoc towards the east, as well. “We have to think about the future,” he says simply.

There’s even hope in the tuna industry, even as kilos and kilos are regularly landed, cleaned, packed, and shipped to Japan and the US from the Benoa Harbor.

Benoa tuna fish landing transported from the boats to the nearby processing siteBenoa tuna fish landing transported from the boats to the nearby processing site Benoa fish landing and processing zone for tuna export selection Benoa tuna processing zone for export selection Processing fresh tuna into styro boxes for export to San FranciscoProcessing fresh tuna into styro boxes for export to San Francisco Mr. Hartoyo showing circular hook and a J hookMr. Soehartoyo showing circular hook and J hook for long line fishing method

Here, WWF observers like Mr. Soehartoyo are spreading the word about the circle hook, an alternative to the J-hook, which catches tuna just as efficiently, while reducing the incidence of turtle bycatch—apparently the circle hooks are too big for the turtles to swallow!

In my mind, however, after this visit, Bali will always be about hope for the turtles, thanks to the work of many people, among them the extraordinary Dr. Windia Adnyana, who have turned the tide for turtles in this island where 30,000 animals used to be slaughtered each year for rituals and for their meat.

Pak Guswindia holding a year old olive ridley turtle in the Turtle CenterPak Guswin holding a year old olive ridley turtle in the Turtle Center

Pak Guswin (as Dr. Adnyana is known) is WWF Indonesia’s “turtle man,” an erudite, funny man who trained at James Cook University in Australia, who now teaches turtle studies (turtle studies!) at Bali’s Udayana University, and of whom I am now an avowed fan.

Staff of TCEC led by Pak Guswin with the WWF Coral Triangle Expedition TeamStaff of TCEC led by Pak Guswin with the WWF Coral Triangle Expedition Team A rescued green turtle with badly damaged fins on it's right side  A rescued green turtle with badly hurt fins on it’s right side

At the Turtle Conservation and Education Center (TCEC) in Serangan, an erstwhile turtle trading center, I will never forget wading into a pool where rescued green, hawksbill, and olive ridley turtles were swimming about, bearing the marks of their natural or man-made trauma—carapaces with what looked like a shark’s bite mark, or a missing flipper ripped off by a nylon net. Then there was that video with awful footage of a turtle being separated from its shell while still alive.

The hope is in the power of religion, after some blessed leaders of the Parisada Hindu Dharma declared in 2005 that killing turtles was NOT necessary for rituals. The hope is in the fact that, as Pak Guswin says, young people who used to snack on turtle satay are now the ones releasing the hatchlings back to the sea.

Baby olive ridley turtle in the pool of TCECBaby olive ridley turtle in the pool of TCEC

I hold a hatchling in my hand at the TCEC, and I actually believe the little critter has a chance to grow up and have its own babies. I look at the bigger turtles, with their endearing faces, beautiful shells, and deliberate movements, and I think, hope never looked so gentle.

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  • heru purnomo

    Hi Alya,

    thanks alot for this great report,we very appreciate WWF who still consern about our indonesian coral reefs. we hope our Dream could become true in future.and all indonesian fisherman will have better future.
    once more ,thanks alot for All WWF Coral Triangle Team.


  • Alya B. Honasan

    You’re very welcome, Heru! Keep up the great work…:)

  • http://www.panda.org/coraltriangle Lida Pet

    It is indeed very promising to see Mr Heru wanting to be part of the solution for a more sustainable trade in live reef fish. In october in HongKong our team together with Conservation International (Frazer McGilvray) and the University of HK (Dr Yvonne Sadovy)is organizing an important meeting for industry and government to set out a path to help improve the trade, reducing its negative impacts on the reefs and fish populations and helping sustain the livelihoods of fishers that work in this industry. The willingness of Mr Heru and the example by the Palawan industry in Philippines are critical to make things better!

  • lee van voon

    I am very impressed by Mr Heru Purnomo practice of sustainable catching.
    As a fish farmer, I think this is a very responsible way of ensuring the reef fish is protected and fisherman has a longer future.
    It will be better if there’s way to culture the fish, that will lessen the pressure on the wild catch.

    Keep up the good work.

    Lee Van Voon

  • http://www.wwf.ch Felix

    Thank you for this inspiring contribution. If conducted with a feel for social and ecologic issues, profitable business can sustain itself for much longer than by just maximising short-term benefits. ANF maintain the marine wonders for our youth and kids!