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On World Ocean Day this year, Manado conservationist Mohammad Yasir is reminding us that one ocean connects us all – and we are all responsible for keeping it free from plastic waste.
Yasir is the Manado Area Coordinator at the Balai Pengelolaan Sumber Daya Pesisir dan Laut (BPSPL or Marine and Coastal Resource Management Agency) in Makassar. The group is responsible for the protection, and preservation of coastal and marine resources in Manado. This includes protecting fish and marine mammals such as whales, dugong, sharks, sea turtles, and coelacanths; rescuing stranded marine mammals, the conservation of coral reefs and addressing plastic waste.
Malalayang Beach, at the south end of Manado, has a beautiful view of Manado Tua and Bunaken Island. Even though it is currently closed for revitalisation work, it is a popular destination for locals to enjoy local snacks such as fried bananas served with sambal roa, a local chilli sauce. Unfortunately, the beach is full of all kinds of plastic rubbish. The city of Manado itself has been named by Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry as one of the dirtiest cities in Indonesia.
In 2019, Yasir signed up to participate in a two-week Australia Awards Short Course on ‘Tackling Marine Pollution Issues Through Recycling’ at Griffith University.
“The short course opened my eyes, especially in regard to partnerships, collaborations with other institutions, mentorship and change behaviour,” said Yasir, who studied Marine Science at Universitas Hasanuddin in Makassar, specialising in Marine Biological Resources Conservation.
“I gained so much knowledge from our friends in Australia on how to become a mentor to local institutions and get them to join our conservation efforts.”
Taking what he learned in Australia to heart, Yasir reached out to organisations in Manado and Jakarta for collaborations.
One of Yasir’s first projects that applied the skills he learned in Australia was to establish a Rumah Sampah Pesisir – the Coastal Garbage House – an activity to educate locals about how their garbage affects the coast and the ocean. In addition, they learn how to sort their garbage by type and kind; evaluate the garbage; compost; and learn about waste disposal.
“While we call it Rumah Sampah, there isn’t an actual house or building,” Yasir said.
“We hold these activities wherever people are meeting to talk about garbage. We find garbage everywhere, but solutions can be found everywhere, too. We might collect garbage, but we need to be elegant garbage collectors who compile and make use of the data!”
He also encouraged the formation of a small organisation, Mudung Family, to become a partner in addressing marine debris and coral transplantation, teaching locals and fellow diving enthusiasts how to care more about their environment. Mudung Family routinely organises beach and undersea clean-ups.
“We also worked closely with them to develop a coastal garbage bank named Bank Sampah Krokot, where household garbage that has been sorted can be disposed of, without throwing it into the ocean or adding it to the landfill.”
Yasir also reaches out to organisations outside of Manado. A group from Jakarta, Diver Clean Action, helps with clean-ups and has provided education on how to separate rubbish and compile data about what was collected. Having a record of what households throw away and the undersea garbage collected by divers means they can identify what is local waste, and what is brought to Manado by the currents.
“It turns out that the majority of the garbage washing up on our coast is not from local households and businesses. We found a lot of Indomie plastic packages that were not from Indonesia!” Yasir said.
“Coastal and undersea rubbish is a complex matter. One ocean and its currents connect us all throughout the world. We need to remind people that plastic waste is everyone’s responsibility. Plastic waste affects our conservation efforts, too. If we don’t actively get rid of the marine debris, the corals will die.”
Yasir was particularly inspired by Professor Sharyn Rundle-Thiele, who taught the Australia Awards course participants the skills to change people’s behaviour regarding waste and how to guide local organisations to become changemakers in their communities.
“Change starts with our own self, then our families, then we need to communicate our intentions directly to the communities closest to us. After that, we need to motivate them and have a clear plan and vision instead of going with the flow,” he said.
“We need to learn from plastic waste! The strength of their polymer compound is why it takes plastics so long to break down. We need to create strong communities with strong ties, and we need to actively participate in these communities, too.”
Yasir believes it’s easier to change the behaviour of children, and also important in the long-term. With Diver Clean Action, BPSPL works on the Marine Debris Ranger program that educates children. “We show them documentaries on how plastic waste endangers the marine biota,” he said. “The future of Malalayang is in the hands of this generation.”
In 2015, BPSPL started the Coral Stock Center (CSC), which provides sustainable coral saplings for reef conservation. Prior to this, coral transplantation at Malalayang Beach was done by breaking a branch from a healthy coral, causing damage to the existing coral reef that has taken years to grow.
Second, there was no monitoring after the transplantation. With the opening of the CSC, coral saplings are grown for the purpose of transplantation. Now anyone who wants to participate in reef conservation can do so without harming existing corals.
One of those groups is Reeformers, an NGO established last year by Jakarta high school student Rafael Angouw, who used to live in Manado. Yasir has joined them as their marine life expert.
Reeformers volunteers transplant saplings from the CSC, monitor their growth every month and do ocean clean-ups. They have a program where the public can adopt a coral, a rack (16 corals) or a shelf (32 corals). Donations cover coral transplantation and monitoring costs for a year.
“BPSPL doesn’t have enough funds for monitoring activities. By partnering with Reeformers and local dive centres, we are able to do this,” Yasir explained.
“From the very beginning, we’ve told them that this is a community project that we work on together. Diving in Bunaken can be costly, but now Malalayang Beach offers a cheaper alternative. It’s also an ideal spot for those learning to dive as they can see a reef ecosystem and marine biota without harming a mature coral reef. Our friends at the dive centres also help us with monitoring by cleaning up algae, collecting marine debris, and so on.”
Looking back on the Australia Awards short course, Yasir said he was now more confident because of the knowledge and skills he received. He learned from professionals who were the specialists in their fields and visited many relevant locations.
“In Brisbane, I was surprised to see that their garbage trucks were so clean,” he recalls. “I was expecting their landfills to be like the ones here, but it was more like a park surrounded by a protected forest that acts as a buffer! Snakes from the landfill would have somewhere to go instead of entering people’s homes.
“I was so impressed that they used the methane gas produced by decomposing waste in the landfill to power the city. I think that Indonesia has similar policies as Australia, but we still need to change our behaviour. We need to start with our own behaviour in relation to the garbage we produce, and how we dispose of it.”
Photo courtesy of Mohammad Yasir.
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