The condition of mangrove forests in Tanjung Panjang Nature Reserve (TPNR) in Pohuwato regency, Gorontalo, is increasingly critical as 80 percent of the swamps have been converted into fish farms.
Gorontalo Regional Mangrove Working Group (KKMD) head Rahman Dako said the massive mangrove forest conversion was attributed to several past government regulations that supported such actions.
The problem, Rahman said, began when the government in the 1980s launched the 'Blue Revolution' policy to improve the country's fish production, opening opportunities for newcomers to develop fish ponds in the region.
The condition worsened when thousands of hectares of mangrove swamps were deforested and converted into fish farms before Gorontalo province gained autonomy from its parent North Sulawesi province.
Conservation areas were then easily sold to newcomers, a majority of them from South Sulawesi, by simply obtaining a permit from village chiefs.
'Weak law enforcement has definitely led to the further mangrove forest conversion in Pohuwatu,' Rahman said.
The mangrove forests in the western-most regency in Gorontalo are regarded as the main ecosystem barrier in the Tamini Bay coastal area. The mangrove swamps also act as a barrier against tsunami and erosion and a habitat of various wildlife and fish species.
Unfortunately, Pohuwato has lost at least 11,563 ha of mangrove forests over the past 30 years.
'If the condition is left unchecked, the TPNR will just remain a story for our grandchildren,' said Rahman at a recent dialog on mangrove forest preservation.
In order to maintain mangrove forest sustainability, Pohuwato Regent Syarif Mbuinga offered several solutions, including providing alternative incomes for people who relied on fish agriculture.
A number of agreements between local administrations and fish farmers had also been established, highlighting the prohibition of opening new ponds in protected forest areas and inside the TPNR, and a ban on cutting trees within 100 meters along river banks and 50 meters from creeks.
In addition, Syarif said, residents were also prohibited from buying and selling mangrove forest areas located both within forest reserves and TPNR.
'If the agreement is violated, we will not hesitate to take stern action,' he said.
Separately, Ambo Tang Daeng Matteru, chairman of the South Sulawesi Family Harmony (KKSS) in Pohuwato said of the approximately 13,500 residents from South Sulawesi settling in Gorontalo province, 60 percent of them rely on fish and shrimp farming for their livelihoods.
'Profits from fish farming are substantial as 1 hectare of a fish farm can yield at least a ton of fish or shrimp at a price of Rp 10,000 (US$0.75) per kilogram. These commodities are heavily marketed in South Sulawesi, North Sulawesi and Surabaya, East Java,' he said.
Ambo said the fish farming culture of people from South Sulawesi, particularly the ethnic Bugis, had been an ongoing tradition for hundreds of years. Many Bugis people, he said, had also opened shrimp ponds in peninsular Malaysia and Australia.