Aru Tenggara Marine Protected Area (MPA) is one of the regions in the Arafura Sea where efforts are made to protect the ecosystem and species. Although uninhabited, this entire 114,000 hectares of space is used as a fishing ground for people outside of the MPA and remains a petuanan or an area where customary communities collect/manage resources which compels sustainable fishery practices in the area. In 2014, the MPA issued a Management and Zoning Plan, which were signed by the Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries of Indonesia, and which will guide the management of the MPA for a period of 20 years, or until 2034. 

The day-to-day activities in the MPA are managed by the Working Unit consisting of four staff members — the team leader, two technical staff and a boat crew, but only one of them is an official civil servant, while the others work on a contractual basis. They are all based in the MPA management office in Dobo, the capital city of the Kepulauan Aru Regency, Maluku. It takes 12 hours by regular boat to reach the MPA from Dobo in normal weather conditions. 

At least once a month, the Working Unit conducts regular monitoring activities on three main habitats — coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass, as well as species such as sea turtle and cetaceans. The team also ensures surveillance and patrols are operational around the MPA.

The Aru Tenggara MPA Working Unit

Ifan Setyawan, the leader of the Working Unit, dedicated himself to this work since 2010. Originally from Lampung, Sumatra, he now lives in Dobo far from his family who lives in Java. It requires an expensive 2 to 3 connecting flights to reach Java from Dobo so he only meets his family almost once a year. In the past, he did try to bring his family to Dobo, but it was difficult to find proper health and education facilities, especially for his children. As the leader, he finds it very challenging to form a team, to find people who want to live in Dobo and work in a remote area like Aru Tenggara MPA. Ironically enough, the locals have little interest in working in the conservation field. The only local person who dedicated himself to Aru Tenggara MPA is Christian Tamaela from Central Maluku, also fondly called by locals as “kaka kece.” 

When the team started visiting villages and sought to gain the trust of the villagers in 2010 by explaining the importance of the MPA and collecting every possible local knowledge which could help with MPA management, many villagers were hesitant, fearing these information would be used to impose restrictions. But eventually, people from neighboring villages started to cause damage to the marine area. The Working Unit helped solve this issue through the establishment of an agreement with all the communities in 19 villages around the MPA. 

The agreement states that if a person carries out damaging activities inside the MPA, for example by catching sea turtles, the village of his residence would be responsible for feeding the entire residents of the other 18 villages as well as the Working Unit. Through this agreement, the local communities were able to determine important areas as “no-take zones” in the zoning plan. Rajab Tuberfon, Head of Karey village, said that the agreement with the Working Unit ensures that communities have a partner to protect the area. He hopes that the local government will also join to support the working unit in managing the MPA.

In 2018, the working unit welcomed Ardi from Sorong, West Papua, and Thomas, a local youth who wants to live in Dobo and join the Working Unit. Prior to this, Ifan tried to train some locals but none of them decided to stay. Ardi was then a fresh graduate when he joined the team. His background was not conservation but capture fisheries which required him additional training to be able to support the Working Unit. Recognizing his determination, the Working Unit sponsored his scuba diving course and licensing so that he would be able to help monitor the coral reefs. Thomas was likewise hired because of his knowledge in sailing and operating their boat.

Supporting the Working Unit’s hard work and commitment to MPA management

The Working Unit does not only need additional personnel to implement a number of activities but also partners. Partnership is one of the most important components in MPA effectiveness assessment. ATSEA-2, through its range of activities in Indonesia, is the working unit’s first organizational partner in increasing the Aru Tenggara MPA management effectiveness. ATSEA-2 will help in identifying clear strategies and catalyzing the need for support in effectively managing MPAs, especially in remote areas and developing countries such as Indonesia.

Read also: Jabulenga: The center of shrimp fisheries in the Aru Islands