Indonesia blast fishing

Doug Fenner d.fenner at
Mon Sep 28 19:13:35 EDT 1998

In response to the observations on blast-fishing in
Flores, Indonesia:

There is no doubt that the situation in Indonesia is nearing disaster
proportions. People are starving. The economy is already a mess, and will
get worse. Present "aid" efforts, such as exist, are futile,
self-serving and slow. We may be seeing a demonstration of how completely
one man (one family) can wreck the fourth largest country in the world,
the one that has (had?) more reefs than any on the planet.

On the other hand, we should not kid ourselves that this is a new
situation. Blast-fishing has been used in the region for almost a century. 
There are reports, backed up by eyewitness evidence (some of it mine) that
the reefs all around the entire perimeter of Sumatra were largely bombed
out in 3-4 years, in the early 1990's. There are places around Sulawesi
where explosions every 10 min. are the norm! But the problem here lies in
the phrase "eyewitness accounts." Indonesia probably has fewer published
accounts of its reefs, per hectare, than anywhere else. We need rigorously
conducted retrospective studies far more than we need anecdotal evidence. 
If we knew how fast the bomb (and don't forget the cyanide) destruction
was accelerating due to the economic crash, we could make some econometric
projections re value of lost resources that might have political impact.

Having said that: I appreciate the value of Bert Hoeksma's observations
(Bert has been out there for a long time, and knows a great deal about the
place). Some if not most bomb damage produces destabilised rubble on which
recruitment is slow. On the other hand, in many areas it is possible to
see new recruits littering the bottom of craters a year old. In my
opinion, a much larger longterm threat to the reefs of the entire SE Asian
region is land-based sources of pollution, the subject of the recent UN

After the bombing and the cyanide stop (if they ever do), those reefs will
gradually recover. In contrast, there are no sewage treatment plants
anywhere in Indonesia, and few if any industrial controls (and none that
are adhered to.) Our Java project has reported heavy metal values in
marine sediments well above acceptable limits, and every major city in
Indonesia has a big offshore reef gap. 

This situation is documented in an upcoming paper by Evan Edinger (Mar
Poll Bull), in which he summarizes several reef studies from Indonesia and
compares with data from older studies. In short, land-based sources
produce something between total reef extirpation (as Tom Tomascik has
described for Jakarta Bay) to a reduction of 30% in generic diversity over
the past 15 years.

Even in an economic crisis, food aid and better patrolling can reduce the
damage from bombing. The other stuff just keeps on coming....

Yours in sorrow-Mike Risk
riskmj at mcmail.cis.McMaster.CA

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