What got you into marine conservation?When working in my first job as a Research Assistant at a local University in Melbourne, I realized academia was not a path I wanted to take. I started to volunteer for local NGOs and assisted them in contemporary issues related to setting up some of the first marine protected areas along the Victorian coast in Australia. I then completed a Masters in Environmental Science to learn more about the range of legal, policy and economic issues surrounding conservation management. After that I landed my first job with government in Australia and have worked now in marine conservation in Melbourne, Cambridge (UK), Cairns and Indonesia for the past 23 years.
In 2004 I moved from a government job in marine conservation and protection in Australia, to lead the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Indonesian Marine Conservation Program. It has certainly been a positive move, I’m still learning and hopefully I bring some experience to help advance marine conservation in Indonesia, an important neighbor of Australia.
After almost a decade working on (and for) Indonesia's reefs, can you describe - in your experience - the conservation approaches that have been the most successful in improving local management practices in a durable way?I have always approached conservation from the viewpoint that we must facilitate collaborative management between civil society and governments. Building bridges, strengthening trust, and capacities has been fundamental for our program to achieve improvements of marine ecosystem health and boost marine resources. Allowing real decisions to be made by civil society can be difficult, as sometimes there are compromises with conservation principles.
Enforcement of law is extremely important as well. When enforcement is weak, it is even more crucial that civil society is fully involved in the design and implementation of management rules, as communities are often well placed to assist in surveillance of illegal activities. This can take time as policy and law development at national and provincial levels has to be coupled by investments in communities and businesses at the local level.
For example, after 10 years of working in Karimunjawa National Park (KNP) in Java, we are just starting to observe measurable improvements in reef fish biomass that will ultimately allow people to have access to fish for food and income into the future. This would never have happened without active community and business involvement in the changes to regulations.
Active collaboration between governments and communities, not merely consultation, allows trust and common understanding of the importance of these regulations to grow. In the past national and provincial planning and policy processes were not coupled with local initiatives to build collaborative management. I think times are changing as society realizes that co-management really works, and the success and progress in Karimunjawa shows the benefits of this approach.
How has your programme evolved over the years, and what factors have influenced these changes?The WCS Indonesia Program has evolved in many ways over the past 8 years. Initially we assisted the Karimunjawa National Park Authority to design a new zoning and management plan for its marine resources. After this we assisted with implementation of adaptive management and monitoring programs, as well as livelihood and education programs. We have leveraged this knowledge and experience to expand the program.
Our expansion has been gradual but strategic as we have identified areas both of national conservation need, and where we believe our approach to co-management has a good chance of success. Now we have additional targeted programs in Aceh, North Sulawesi and Lombok that couple government priorities in marine conservation management with local needs.
Our key goal is to build capacity and strong collaborative management structures with communities, traditional management institutions and local governments. Our program has had to recruit experienced people to deal with changes in our approaches, and we continually seek training opportunities for our existing staff to improve their ability to deliver the range of varied programs. We outsource work where we can, to be more efficient in capturing expertise we do not have.
Our team also gained invaluable experience by working at the coalface in a consistent way over many years, with governments and communities. The program has always had a consistent monitoring program based on simple methods but rigorous science. Consequently we have a very extensive knowledge of the ecological and social improvements resulting from the management interventions we have employed.
Involvement in the Coral Triangle Initiative has also has a positive influence by allowing us to have a more integrated and collaborative approach with other international and local organizations.
WCS's conservation work relies on both Indonesian and foreign experts. Can you talk about the process of building capacity within your team, including research writing skills for publishing?Over the past 8 years, we have slowly doubled the core WCS marine team which now consists of around 20 Indonesian nationals and myself. We are proud that some staff have gained experience in WCS and now work in important roles in other organizations. Because we commonly outsource work, at any one time 40 or more Indonesian nationals could be working with and for WCS.
We have been able to build the capacity of the team members slowly and consistently over time, by encouraging staff to complete international and national postgraduate degrees. Seven staff have or are currently completing such programs related to WCS site-based and species conservation work. Most of staff have had opportunities to manage programs related to policy development, marine park zoning, management planning and outreach at our sites. This has enabled a great amount of learning on the job.
At times we recruit new expertise and our staff had been involved in many training opportunities with international organizations and presented work at numerous national and international conferences. Our staff have published papers in proceedings of these conferences with help from co-authors. This experience has been invaluable to improving English and Indonesian writing skills. Improvement in writing capacity also occurs with assistance, training and publication of required technical reports for every workshop, survey or project we conduct. We have published in house over 100 technical reports/communications in both English and Indonesian, and the team works closely with me and other scientists to publish our work in both these reports and peer-reviewed literature.
WCS is one of the leading international NGOs working on marine conservation issues in Indonesia. How would you describe the process of effectively and efficiently integrating your programme into a landscape where there are so many other initiatives?Early on we identified where our niches lay and we have worked towards developing strong co-management approaches to improve marine conservation in Indonesia. With 10 years experience in coupling national/provincial planning approaches with building stakeholder and community capacity, we believe our program has a unique approach.
Indonesia is a large and varied country, especially due to the extent and isolation of groups of islands. We place much emphasis on working with traditional/local management systems to build strong community governance, and leveraging success from one place to another.
The WCS terrestrial program has also enabled us to build connectivity in conservation management and improved governance across seascapes and landscapes. We have applied co-management approaches in sustainable financing, enforcement, tourism enterprises, mariculture projects, traditional management, and most importantly the successful adoption of regulations that have improved marine ecosystem health.
Our simple but rigorous scientific monitoring methodologies have been applied consistently within all our seascapes to test achievement of explicit conservation targets and social outcomes. Hence we are able to demonstrate success or failure in a transparent manner, and learn from our achievements and mistakes. I think ‘truth based on scientific principles’ is important and eventually it becomes a commodity with which we can be judged.
A considerable amount of scientific material is published on the Coral Triangle, from authors within and outside the region. As a field scientist and head of programme, how would you characterize these publications in terms of their relevance and applicability in your field?I think they are all good, if not excellent. I am all for the conservation community sharing their work in this manner. I’m impressed with the amount of work that has come out in the past 2 or 3 years by those inside and outside the CT, on CT issues.
One of the hardest tasks is to present conservation management work within a regional or global context that is interesting and has relevance to others. The recent buildup of publications will be the ‘time capsule’ that future generations will have most access to in terms of learning what really went on. They present in the most testable way what we know of the achievements and failures of our approaches. They also test ideas and present alternative ideas to current theories in conservation management.
Although some papers may appear to state the obvious, in reality nothing is that obvious when dealing with complex sets of ecological and sociological interactions. Some of the papers provide fascinating narratives which challenge our way of thinking. One publication I read referred to how communities employed the used of dynamite fishing essentially for sport. They did not use dynamite extensively but they enjoyed using it and even suggested setting up ‘dynamite use’ zones.
This is definitely not something I would condone, but provoking our assumptions and ideals can foster new and emergent ideas. Publishing and reading helps you think deeply and critically about what you do. For instance I continually read and learn from papers from the USAID funded Coral Reef Management Program in Sulawesi from 1998 to 2004. These papers are a great source for me and my team as we build on that body of work with the communities in Sulawesi.