Tue, 24 Jun 2003

Mangroves breathe new life into Sulawesi village

Andi Hajramurni, Contributor, Makasar

Gone are the sleepless days for villagers in Tongke-tongke, a small village in Sinjai regency, some 222 kilometers from Makasar.

Before, for years, they were always haunted by natural disasters coming with high waves and strong winds. But as mangrove forests regrow, the coastal village is back to life.

"We have regained our peace of mind after the mangrove forest at the edge of the village started to grow. Now we are no longer worried huge waves or strong winds will suddenly hit us," said Zainuddin, a resident.

Previously, erosion by the sea nearly made this village vanish, to the fear of more than 3,000 villagers, who are mostly fishermen. Now, thanks to the mangrove forest, the residents have the courage to build semi-permanent or permanent houses.

The presence of mangrove forests also means job opportunities for the villages, as it is home to marine life like crabs.

Some of the villagers are now making a living selling and breeding these crabs, offering them for between Rp 15,000 and Rp 30,000 per kilogram. They also build bamboo-made partitions around the village, at the edge of the mangrove forest, to breed the crabs.

And last year, the presence of a fish auction site makes the village busier, providing a place to help fishermen sell their catch.

According to the villagers, they started growing mangrove about 18 years ago and since then have worked hard to ensure the forest grew well. Now, they can enjoy the fruits of their work, escaping the attack of huge waves and strong winds.

The idea to grow mangrove came from a villager, M. Tayeb, after finding out that the neighboring village of Pangasa was free from the raging waves and winds because of the mangrove forest's protection. He then went to Pangasa to learn how to grow mangrove.

The man first grew mangrove in Tongke-tongke in 1984 but failed. The next year, he, with the help of some of his friends from Aku Cinta Indonesia environmental group, started planting mangrove again. This time, it was successful. Soon, realizing the benefits of the forests, other residents followed.

According to recent data from YKL Indonesia (the Indonesia Marine Conservation Foundation), the village's mangrove forest constitutes 8.4 percent or 34.78 hectares of the village's total area of 414.45 hectares.

Most of the mangrove in Tongke-tongke grow on private properties. Back then, during the mangrove-planting effort, each family or group was encouraged to plant mangrove on their own land.

In 1995, Tayeb's success as the pioneer in planting mangrove in the village earned him the prestigious Kalpataru award as a savior of the environment.

With Tayeb's success in planting the trees, the Sinjai regency administration started paying more attention to the village, providing it with public facilities like electricity, clean water, phone lines, schools, and even paved the roads, giving easy access in and out of the village.

For the Sinjay regency administration, Tongke-tongke has transformed into a tourist destination.

"The mangrove forest is attractive enough to make it one of the regency's tourist destinations. We're going to build villas for tourists to stay and rest. There will also be ponds for fishing," Sinjai tourism service head Andi Amirullah said recently.

So far, foreign and domestic environment experts and students have shown their interests in the village's mangrove forest. Dubbed a mangrove laboratory, the village promotes its mangrove forests as sites for comparative studies.

Ahmad Tamrin, an environmental activist from YKL Indonesia, said mangrove trees in Tongke-tongke were of mixed species. Two main species are Brugiera gymmorrhiza -- pandang or tancang to the locals and can be noticed for its orange-colored broad leaves, and a tall mangrove tree Rhizophora apiculata -- that is known as lenro to the locals.

In an effort to ensure the forest's survival, Tongke-tongke villagers set up their own rules on, among others, how and when to cut the trees, and use of land. For instance, the trees can be cut only when it's necessary to reach greater intervals between the trees.

The Sinjai regency administration has also issued regulations on how to sustainability maintain the trees. Sinjai Regent Muhammad Room said the regulations were expected to protect the mangrove trees from being illegally felled.

The effort to legally protect the forest's sustainability is important considering the increasing number of the village's residents, which is feared might lead to the conversion of the mangrove forests' land.

Threat does not only come from the villagers, but also the presence of thousands of smelly bats, which eat away at the trees.

"At first these bats did not pose a danger but as their numbers increased, more mangrove trees have been gnawed at," a villager complained.