The Tanjung Panjang Nature Reserve in Patuhu village, Rangangan, Pohuwato regency, Gorontalo, is becoming increasingly degraded as almost the entire mangrove conservation area has been converted into an aquaculture area, aimed at fish and shrimp farming.
Rahman Dako from Tomini Bay Sustainable Coastal and Livelihood Management (SUSCLAM), an NGO focusing on mangrove conservation and coastal community empowerment, said the opening of fish farms in the Tanjung Panjang Nature Reserve had taken place on a massive scale for a long time.
“Of the 3,000 hectares making up the Tanjung Panjang Nature Reserve, only around 600 hectares remain intact, as the remainder have been converted into aquaculture areas,” Rahman said, adding that Tanjung Panjang played an important role as a buffer area and sustainable coastal ecosystem for Tomini Bay.
Mangrove forests have diverse ecological functions, such as acting as a habitat and spawning ground for various fish species, shrimps, crabs and other marine biota.
A mangrove swamp is a source of germ plasm, medicine and cosmetics while, physically, it is part of a natural coastal shield that acts as a wave breaker and storm buffer, reducing the impacts of tidal waves or tsunamis.
The government designated the Tanjung Panjang Nature Reserve as a conservation area on Oct. 30, 1995, through a Forestry Ministry decree.
Before the damage from forest conversion, the area was known as the largest source of windu shrimp in Sulawesi, as well as being home to wildlife species such as delta crocodiles, snakes, wild boars, water birds, black monkeys and Sulawesi’s indigenous bird, the Maleo.
In 2011, the Gorontalo Legislative Council formed a special committee on mangroves to save the Tanjung Panjang Nature Reserve, but the outcome was disappointing, as the committee’s recommendation, urging the fish farmers to vacate the area, has not been acted upon.
The local Conservation and Natural Resources Agency (BKSDA), which has authority over the Tanjung Panjang Nature Reserve,
acknowledged that they faced complex problems in their efforts to save the conservation area.
“On one hand, many residents depend on fish farming for their survival while on the other hand, there is a lack of supervision [from our office]. The reserve was previously secured by only one ranger and we have no budget to employ more park rangers,” said Gorontalo Conservation Area Section II head of the North Sulawesi BKSDA, Hendrik Rundangan.
Another weakness is the unclear “separation” between the conservation area and surrounding areas.
Pohuwato’s Forestry, Mining and Energy Office head, Joni Nento, said some of the fish farms located within the conservation area would be relocated periodically, and an intense public information campaign to farm owners was necessary.