People

Marthen Welly: The guardian
of Indonesia’s underwater
world

Courtesy of Marthen Welly

If deep-sea fish and coral reefs could express thanks to someone, they would inundate this man with countless kind messages and gifts.

Here goes one rare guy who prefers working for an environmental NGO and taking care of numerous fish as well as coral species in Indonesia rather than in a high-paying job in one of Jakarta’s towering buildings.

Marthen Welly, who holds a degree in marine science and technology from Bogor Agricultural University (IPB), has been working for nine years in the marine program of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a US-based environmental NGO aiming to preserve nature in more than 30 countries, including Indonesia.

When asked why he chose marine biology as his major in university, Marthen said one of the major reasons was Indonesia’s lack of experts in marine affairs.

“Indonesia’s archipelago is dominated by water, yet still very few people take interest in conserving our sea,” he said.

“In Indonesia, there are a number of people who are knowledgeable about forestry. But [what about] marine life?”

Marthen began to show an interest in the environment and marine life as a child growing up in Bandar Lampung, Sumatra, where his father often took him to the beach at Teluk Betung to swim and snorkel.

“At that time, I was mesmerized by the colorful coral reefs and various fish species that I saw [beneath the sea],” he recalled.

Since then, he has become the kind of guy Indonesian underwater animals and coral reefs would highly adore, as he’s always been involved in environmental jobs since — especially in marine affairs.

One month after he graduated from IPB in 1997, he flew to Bali to be a part-time coral monitoring assistant for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Then he moved from one environmental NGO to another, until he finally settled with TNC in 2002.

He recalled one of his friends once offering him a prestigious job in Jakarta but declined the offer, even though he would have earned much more money.

“It’s not about the money,” he argued, “It’s about a higher quality of life and savoring life to the fullest.”

Within TNC Indonesia’s marine program, Marthen worked his way up from NGO liaison program officer to project leader for the TNC Nusa Penida site in Bali. His nine years of experience at TNC have made him an expert in monitoring coral reefs and undersea biodiversity.

Working for an environmental NGO has its own advantages. His job at TNC requires him to deep dive on a regular basis to monitor the condition of coral reefs and fish species.

Now a project leader at TNC site in Nusa Penida, Marthen is currently responsible for managing the 20,057-hectare conservation site and raising awareness about TNC’s environmental efforts to the local community.

He works with local community leaders and government officials to establish marine protected areas, with guidelines encouraging local fishermen to apply environmentally friendly fishing practices to preserve marine biodiversity in the region of Nusa Penida, Bali.

“Tourists come to places like Ubud because of its authentic culture; but tourists are flocking Nusa Penida because of its pristine beaches, beautiful coral reefs, and healthy mangrove forests.”

“Can you imagine if those things disappear? People wouldn’t have a reason to come to Nusa Penida,” he said.

There cannot be any sustainable marine tourism and fisheries without conservation. In islands where local inhabitants depend on seaweed farming and the tourism industry like Nusa Penida, Marthen’s argument makes a lot of sense indeed.

Nusa Penida’s tourism industry has grown over the years, with foreign tourists flocking to the area to enjoy its pristine white sands as well as a world-class diving.

It only takes 30 minutes by boat to reach the islands of Nusa Penida from Sanur, Bali. For pristine beach lovers and scuba diving fans, Nusa Penida is more accessible and less pricey compared to other beautiful yet more remote places such as Sulawesi’s Wakatobi, Kalimantan’s Derawan, or Papua’s Raja Ampat.

Marthen believes it is only a matter of time before Nusa Penida becomes a world-class tourist destination, like other areas of Bali. Coping with the growing number of tourists cramming Nusa Penida will be the next challenge for environmentalists who have been trying to protect and preserve the area’s biodiversity.

But why does Marthen dedicate so much of his life to the environment, especially marine affairs?

“The posh ferries are worthless, the luxurious resorts are nothing, the expensive diving gears are useless,” Marthen said, “if the beaches are polluted, the coral reefs destroyed and the fish gone.”

“If your expensive resort is damaged, you can spend money to build a new one. But if the coral is gone and fish species are extinct, where will you buy them from?”

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