Coastal communities are on the frontline of coral reef management. These groups depend on coastal ecosystems for their food and livelihoods; by empowering them to manage and restore coral reefs, reliable, immediate and mutually beneficial custodianship of these habitats can be secured. Coral reefs in the Rote Ndao Regency area support a high level of biodiversity, providing resources for a large number of people. According to a study conducted by the ATSEA-2 Project in 2021, the area is home to 11,158 ha of coral reefs, 3,885 ha of seagrass and 2,113 ha of mangroves. These three important ecosystems provide for an estimated 2,393 fishing households.

Working through the Reef Check Indonesia Foundation, the ATSEA-2 Project is supporting the implementation of Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) in Rote Ndao. With additional focus on disaster risk management and climate change mitigation, this project aims to strengthen the participation of coastal communities, so they can be more responsive to environmental changes that are threatening the sustainability of their livelihoods.

Based on the ecosystem baseline survey, live hard coral cover is currently below 25%; an after-effect of the mass coral bleaching events also took place here in the villages of Oeseli and Batu Heliana in 2016. On a more positive note, it was also discovered that some coral saplings were growing back, while mangrove and seagrass ecosystems were generally found to be in a healthy condition and with fairly high density (although some locations were damaged in the tidal areas and ports).

Damaged coral reefs still have the capacity to recover, provided they are given a fighting chance. And that is just what Reef Check Indonesia Foundation and the ATSEA-2 Project are trying to give them – by encouraging and involving local communities in carrying out coral reef ecosystem restoration efforts. In Oeseli Village (Southwest Rote) and Bo’a Village (West Rote), coral reef restoration activities have been combined with training on how to make coral reef media and outreach activities designed to empower and inspire local people to act.

Coral Reef Restoration Efforts

Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) were also conducted, to ensure that restoration plans were aligned with community expectations and ambitions for the area. This activity was held on 3 February 2022 in Oeseli Village and attended by the village head, community monitoring groups, Nirwana Lake Tourism boat group, youth organisations and various other representatives of the Oeseli community; in total, there were 14 participants, supported by members of the Reef Check Foundation staff and local government officials. Based on the results of this FGDs, it was agreed that the restoration location was in accordance with the zoning of the Savu Sea National Park. Furthermore, in addition to being a restoration zone, the site will feature as a location for snorkelling and diving tours.

Restoration Media Training

Following the FGDs, several community representatives participated in training on how to make coral reef restoration media, conducted in Oeseli Village from 17–18 February 2022. Participants were representatives from the two target villages, while trainers were a mix of Nusa Cendana University lecturers and coral reef restoration experts. Two restoration methods were determined, namely Webspider and Fishdome. Webspider is a method adopted from previous rehabilitation efforts on Badi Island, South Sulawesi;  this method was chosen because it is easy to manufacture and the required materials are available locally. Fishdome has been successful in the Marine Management Areas of Bondalem and Tejakula in Bali; its structure is ideally suited to fish aggregation, because of its shape (in the form of a hollow dome), which also supports the attachment of young corals naturally (i.e., without the need for transplanting).

Community Empowerment in Making Restoration Media

Ten trainees from both villages became mentors for their respective village communities, tasked with leading the restoration media construction process. In Oeseli village, this activity was carried out from 21–24 February 2022, involving 32 people (nine of whom were women) and produced 50 Webspiders and eight Fishdomes. Meanwhile, restoration work in Bo’a Village was carried out from 28 February to 3 March 2022, involving 20 people (nine of whom were women), producing 50 Webspiders and six Fishdomes.

After the restoration media had been constructed, dried and prepared for placement in the water, the coral tiller fragments were fixed to all the restoration media that had been made. The two types of media were then placed by the dive team in a location that had been surveyed and agreed upon. This laying and arrangement activity was carried out from 8–11 March 2022.

Capacity building activities and awareness of the importance of maintaining marine ecosystems are expected to strengthen mitigation efforts against the impact of disasters in the southern coastal area of Rote Ndao Regency. Continued efforts to strengthen the economic sector and the capacity of community business groups are working to mitigate climate change, thereby ensuring the sustainability of corals and supporting communities who depend on coastal resources for survival.

(by Derta Prabuning – Director of ReefCheck Indonesia Foundation)