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Day 5: Blue Forest
Author: Wong Wei Jian
Editor: Dawn Lin

Today, we visited the Pangkep region located North of Makassar city as part of our engagement with Blue Forests, a local NGO involved in mangrove rehabilitation and sustainable fish farming. As per usual, a long ride followed our breakfast at the hotel. What was different was that a local from Blue Forests picked us up at our hotel. She introduced herself as Kiki, working with Blue Forests in the field of nature conservation. She gave us a short introduction of the organisation and herself, before handing us each a booklet to read during the ride. The booklet included photos of different mangrove species and guides to basic mangrove fieldwork.

As our driver brought us into the fishing village, we saw large, stagnant bodies of water, that extended far out into the horizon. Upon closer inspection, we observed some with fish barely moving in them. As the bus carefully navigated through the narrow pathways of the fish farm, we observed more lands that seemed to be lacking the life you would expect in a fish farm. Much of the land was also dried up and cracking, seeming to be in bad condition. However, the landscape was confusing. In the neighbouring area, we also observed some fish ponds which seemed highly prolific and functional. There were also many pretty cows gently grazing the grass. We would later learn that this contrast was because of the different fertilisers used by fish farmers.

dry pond
Dried up pond
dry pond
Some pretty cows

On site, we were handed aquatic boots to wear while exploring the mangroves. After which, we were led to the local government’s office for a welcome by the village chief, and a couple of officials who were with Blue Forests and the Ministry of Forestry. From their speech (translated by Kiki), they expressed enthusiasm at our presence, and seemed excited that we wanted to learn more about their conservation efforts.

After the introduction, we proceeded with the agenda for today – a visit to the remaining patches of mangroves by the sea to know more about them (a botany class out in the field, essentially), followed by a visit to a local’s fish ponds which are managed in a more sustainable manner. They split us into pairs, and assigned one member from Blue Forest to each, to bring us around to observe and identify the growing mangroves. They also taught us the uses of each species, and explained the importance of mangroves in nature.

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Blue Forest guides teaching us about the state of mangrove populations in the area

After learning about mangroves, Kiki brought us to learn about the mangrove-converted fish ponds. As we walked around the village, Kiki explained to us that the land we walked on used to be all mangroves. However, farmers had converted the land to profitable fish ponds. However, due to their unsustainable farming methods, the ponds were of limited use. They often left ponds that were no longer usable in their damaged state, and moved on to other ponds, only to do the same. As a result, a lot of these mangroves have been damaged. One of Blue Forests' missions is to encourage farmers to switch to the more sustainable model of using organic fertilizers. They collect organic waste from animals on the farm to process and and use it to provide nitrogen for the fish pond. However, out of the many fish farms only a small proportion uses the sustainable method proposed by them, as farmers believe urea is more convenient. However, it was clear, even to us, that organic method would be healthier for the fishes, and ecosystem of the pond itself. The organic ponds were abundant with fish, algae and water plants. They explained to us that this ecosystem was self-sustaining, and the healthier for the fish too, since temperature was regulated by the plants on the surface of the water. Later, we asked Blue Forest about their optimism towards converting all fish ponds into organic ones, and they told us that they did not believe they could have majority of ponds converted, as there lacked support in the government towards environmentally sustaining efforts throughout Indonesia.

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Blue Forest guide sharing about organic fish ponds

After the learning journey, we assembled back at the government’s office for a final sharing and debrief session. As we concluded the session, Kiki and her colleagues praised us for the amount of knowledge that we’ve obtained from that day of learning. In return, a few of us also shared our perspectives on the issues faced by the locals, and some solutions which may be of some use. They were extremely receptive, and it was evident that they were determined in improving the livelihoods of the villagers. All in all, we were grateful that we had learnt so much in so little time, and they were also pleased to have us learn more about the organisation and their programmes – I guess the feelings were mutual. Once again, it was a wonderful experience that can never be found elsewhere, and I’m extremely thankful to be given this opportunity to engage with the locals in such a setting. Hopefully, more will join the effort for nature conservation in Indonesia, and more progress can be made to preserve the beauty of Sulawesi that we have seen so far.

View the full piece on Blue Forest, written by Melvin here