Tue, 02 Aug 1994

Sarwono plans local coast guard units to save sea resources

JAKARTA (JP): State Minister of Environment Sarwono Kusumaatmadja proposed yesterday the creation of local coast guard units throughout Indonesia to protect marine resources such as coral reefs and mangroves.

Sarwono took his proposal to President Soeharto at the Bina Graha presidential office. During the meeting he spelled out the extensive damage already caused to coral reefs in Indonesian waters and to the mangrove forests along the coasts in the absence of any effective protection.

The President welcomed the initiative for the Sea and Coast Guard System. The plan will be discussed further today with other cabinet members during the monthly meeting on political affairs and security.

Sarwono said he also talked to Armed Forces officers, fishermen and provincial government officials, and that all had welcomed the plan. A number of entrepreneurs even volunteered to provide some of the patrolling facilities, he added.

The plan calls for the establishment of coast guard units in the same way that the nation now has the siskamling neighborhood watch units, which are run by the community.

The planned coast guard units, which are envisioned as part of the national maritime security system, should be trained and empowered to make citizens' arrests against people caught tampering with the marine resources, Sarwono said.


The presence of these units could stop the endless destruction of Indonesia's marine environment, he explained.

A recent survey by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences found that only seven percent of Indonesia's coral reefs are still intact. Some 36 percent of the coral reefs are still in reasonably good condition but the others have been badly or even completely destroyed, Sarwono said.

He said he had received a large number of reports from divers, including foreigners, who said that they saw fishermen using explosives in areas in Maluku and Nusa Tenggara known for their coral reefs.

"This is the most heinous crime," Sarwono said, stressing that the coral reefs are the natural habitat of many fish species. "It is totally irresponsible, because by bombing the coral reefs, they will kill 90 percent of the fish."

He said Indonesia has one of the world's largest coral reefs, citing the Bakabone Rate barrier near Maumere in East Nusa Tenggara. He also named the reefs in Bintuni, Buneken, Bana, Pulau Togian, Pulau Tukang Besi, all in eastern Indonesia, as important underwater resources.

Mangroves in Indonesia have suffered the same fate, with only two million hectares remaining from the original 13.4 million hectares.

The government has begun trying to rehabilitate some of the coral reefs, for example, by dumping the wrecks of becak (pedicabs) and cars near the Pulau Seribu islands off the coast of Jakarta. The result has been quite impressive because the area of fish habitat there has increased, he said.

Illegal fishing

Sarwono also said the planned patrol units are expected to watch out for ships discharging oil and waste, to monitor the activities of trawlers and to stop the bombing of coral reefs and other criminal actions.

He said the culprits are both Indonesians and foreigners who are fishing illegally in Indonesian waters.

He said Indonesia fought hard in the United Nations to obtain the right to exploit the mineral resources in all of the waters that lie between all of the islands in the country under what is known as the Archipelagic Concept. "We have to prove to the outside world that we can protect these resources."

The proposal for local coast guard units should be seen in the context of defending the nation, which also includes defending the nation's assets in the sea, he said.

The minister deplored the lack of response from courts of law to the needs of the nation to protect against environmental destruction.

"It's infuriating," he said, recalling that after all the efforts to arrest, investigate and prosecute culprits, the courts often handed down excessively light punishments or even let them go free.

Most judges in Indonesia are still relying on "positive laws" and are reluctant to rely on case specific jurisprudence, especially in dealing with environmental cases, he said.

This is simply not acceptable because Indonesia cannot be expected to draw up regulations for every case that comes up in the courts, he said. "The judges should rely more on jurisprudence and the existing laws and regulations. (emb)