The Jakarta Post
With engines roaring, a passenger jet comes in to land at Bali's airport as a steady stream of traffic crosses the Bali-Mandara toll road across Benoa harbor.
This is the fast-paced view of the world from an oasis hidden among mangrove trees, just half a kilometer from Ngurah Rai International airport and less than 100 meters from the toll road.
These mangroves and seas abutting one of Bali's busiest tourist transit zones are home to 96 fishing families who can trace their roots here over generations.
It is also home to the Wanasari Fishing cooperative, which was founded in 2009 with the goal of restoring the mangrove environment and raising the living standards of the local fishermen through crab farming.
Wanasari is the brain child of Made Sumasa, who says he looked around his home a half-dozen years ago and saw the continuing destruction wrought on the environment by the fishing and wood harvesting methods developed by his ancestors.
'I had the concept of improving fishing management in 2009. Fishermen here have survived over the years by taking side jobs cutting down mangroves to burn in the process of forming cement and making salt,' says the 49-year-old.
'That was the system our parents taught, but as a member of the younger generation, I developed a concept of how we could care for the environment,' Sumasa says.
''Wanasari means the 'jungle can give life to the people',' says Sumasa of naming the group, the easiest task he faced.
Convincing his fellow fishermen that planting and protecting mangroves and farming crabs rather than taking them from the sea was another.
'I put my ideas to the people, but that was hard, because in the past they had destroyed the environment to survive,' Sumasa says. 'I needed them to turn that upside down into the idea of protecting the environment to survive.'
Seeing is believing, so Sumasa began planting mangroves and growing crabs in a small bamboo fenced area called a keramba in the mangrove intertidal zones. 'People on the coast are different, they are tough and it's hard to change their views,' Sumarsa says seated on the deck of one of Wanasari's floating restaurants, which specialize in serving fresh crab and seafood. 'Over time, the fishermen saw I was harvesting crabs from my farm and they saw my idea could be interesting. By 2011, they wanted to start farming crabs and protecting the mangroves, so the group was started.'
The restaurants, run by relatives of the fishermen, are built on stilts over the water and accessed via narrow boardwalks winding through the 10 hectares of mangrove forests planted by the fishermen's cooperative.
In contrast to local mangrove forest, where plastic waste is drowning these critical nurseries for fish and other organisms; at Wanasari, the sea and the mangroves are clean and healthy.
Rubbish is collected daily, says Sumasa of the waves of plastic waste that wash Bali's coastlines with incoming tides.
'Our concept is conservation and education. I built this group so fishermen could feed their families sustainably. How can we ask people to care for the environment when their stomachs are empty? People need to benefit from conservation projects,' says Sumasa.
Local families are doing better financially and there is work for all, he adds.
It is not only the families whose welfare has improved. Sumasa recalls that when he was a child, there were no tall trees in the area.
'We cut down all the mangroves back then, so the environment now is far better than when I was a child,' says Sumasa against a backdrop of mangrove trees, their shady branches alive with birds.
Crab numbers are also growing, despite the volumes harvested from five bamboo-fenced keramba. In a small room in Wanasari's operations area, several tanks of seawater are the backbone of the enterprise. A male crab and three females are the breeding stock.
'One female lays three million eggs, 60 percent of which are viable,' says Sumasa. 'Of these we return 40 percent to the sea and farm 20 percent, so we are also improving crab numbers in the wild.'
Making the decision to abandon fishing methods used all his life and join Sumasa's conservation model was not easy for Nyoman Sudiasa.
The 42-year-old says he was afraid to risk a known living for Sumasa's theory that sustainable fishing would improve his environment.
'I agreed completely with Sumasa's ideas on the environment, but I thought it would be hard to change how we thought of the environment and our fishing methods,' he says.
'I held off and only joined the group in 2011 after seeing Sumasa's success,' Sudiasa adds. 'Now I believe this system is really good for us and great for the mangrove forests and the crabs.'
'Helping protect the environment is also improving our welfare and promises a better future for our kids,' says Sudiasa of his conversion to environmentally sustainable fishing.
' All Images by J.B.Djwan
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