The Jakarta Post
The inauguration of Joko Widodo and Jusuf Kalla as President and Vice President marked a start to their efforts to realize their platforms, which include the much heralded 'maritime axis'. Such a vision is quite reasonable due to the maritime culture that has been in place for centuries, as evident in the old song lyric 'Our ancestors were sailors'.
The concept should be understood as an opportunity to restore the glory of the ancient Sriwijaya and Majapahit kingdoms that controlled the archipelago.
Why is the maritime axis so important?
First, the fact that two-thirds of Indonesia's territory is water should not be seen as an obstacle but a means to connect more than 17,400 islands into one single maritime nation.
Second, Indonesia is after all home to 75 percent of the world's coral species, at least 30 percent of fish species and 20 percent of the total global mangrove cover, as well as numerous species of sea grass that should be counted as our precious marine resources.
Indonesia's natural marine resources are indeed a blue diamond. World Bank data indicated that Indonesian fisheries contribute to 5 percent of global production, which equals US$20 billion annually. The figure would be even greater if we added value of the economic loss due to illegal fishing, which could reach $8 billion.
There is no doubt that the maritime axis would bring more benefits not only to the government but also to the people, in particular those who inhabit the coastal areas.
There is, in fact, a positive side that we need to consider in the new government's noble plan. At least 60 percent of the Indonesian population lives along the coastline, thus focusing development in this area would help improve coastal communities' wellbeing and strengthen Indonesia's position as a rising economic powerhouse.
Coastal and maritime development has so far neglected the role of local communities through public participation. Therefore, efforts to promote a coastal community-based economy should be the main target of this program. It is reasonable that efforts should begin with improvements to the economic infrastructure, like fish markets, fishing fleets and sustainable marketing channels, so that small communities can gain greater benefit from this program.
The creation of a maritime bank specializing in loans extended to fishermen and maritime industries is another point that deserves priority. More importantly, strengthening institutions, such as fisheries and marine state-owned enterprises that involve the fishery community sector in the program may help improve awareness of the importance of marine resources and the local communities' ownership of this biological richness.
As Indonesia has many small islands, all inter-island ferries and ships should be upgraded and regulated according to international maritime standards of seaworthiness so that no more Indonesians die in shameful watery graves.
Furthermore, the planned ocean toll is a massive, rapid sea-transportation system designed to continually transport goods from the westernmost area of the country to the less-developed eastern regions.
In the past, the Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish fleets had to travel all the way from Europe to eastern Indonesia for spices. At present, utilizing the ocean toll would be important to activate the spices lanes for ships traveling to the east and to bring the seasonings back to the west, where industries are available.
We might also expect massive opportunities to increase the production of coconut, nutmeg and clove plantations, as well as sago, the precious products from Sulawesi, Maluku and Papua. Once again local communities would be involved and have direct benefits from the program. This might help the government to refute any doubts regarding the risk of the program being abused by foreign companies exploiting the country's natural resources.
The emphasis on a huge and rapid sea-transportation system should also consider the potential impact on the environment, on the back of data showing the country's marine biodiversity was in peril.
Indonesia's marine biodiversity is not healthy at all and, based on estimates, roughly more than 30 percent of Indonesian coral has been seriously destroyed. In brief, in recent decades, the story of Indonesia's management of natural resources has been one dominated by degradation and increased threat.
Thus, strengthening coastal and marine educational institutions needs to be considered for future research and development into marine biodiversity. Pattimura University (Unpatti) has for the last three years focused its research and outreach program on the development of coastal and island communities.
This is relevant to the local culture that mostly relies on coastal livelihoods, while also supporting the Masterplan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesian Economic Development (MP3EI) as part of national development planning.
Papua State University (UNIPA), together with Diponegoro University (Undip) in Semarang, Udayana University (UNUD) in Bali, and the University of California in Los Angeles and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, funded by the United States Agency for International Development Indonesian Office, have initiated the Indonesian Biodiversity Research Center (IBRC) in Bali.
Last May, UNIPA, in cooperation with the government of Raja Ampat regency, expanded the marine and coastal education program. Facilities for the Fisheries and Marine Coastal Research Center in Raja Ampat were built. The development of a new campus also included marine tourism education programs relevant to the development of Raja Ampat as an international tourist destination in the Bird's Head Peninsula. This may support the growth of Indonesian tourism reliant on an underwater paradise with a value of more than $25 billion yearly.
Overall, economic considerations should not be the only concern of the maritime axis program. Concentrating on local livelihoods and developing environmentally friendly approaches are also important for the sustainability of the program.
It will also be important to have a coordinating minister for several ministries and government agencies, including several new institutions that would likely be set up, such as a maritime and sea logistics ministry; a marine tourism and creative economy ministry, as well as the Sea and Coast Guard (Barkomkamla).
This would help the government speed up development in this crucial sector.
August E. Pattiselanno is a professor in rural sociology; Yolanda M.T.N. Apituley is a lecturer at the School of Agriculture, Pattimura University (UNPATTI), Ambon; Freddy Pattiselanno is a lecturer at the School of Animal Science, Fisheries and Marine Sciences Papua State University (UNIPA), Manokwari.