Indonesia is a vast equatorial archipelago, comprising well over 13,000 islands. When you combine Indonesia’s area of both land and sea, it becomes the worlds 7th largest country. The climate, vast area, and scattered island geography, help to give Indonesia an incredible amount of biodiversity (2nd only to Brazil). When it comes to coral reefs, Indonesia is king. Central to the famed ‘coral triangle’, Indonesia has the greatest coral reef biodiversity in the world, and is believed to be a ‘reseeding ground’ for the worlds coral reefs during times of substantial climate change.
With so much diversity in both cultures and ecosystems, it is no surprise that a wide variety of fishing methods are used among the islands. One such method is spearfishing, which is sometimes done by hookah divers. A somewhat dangerous form of diving (particularly in the areas where divers are less aware of decompression sickness), hookah diving in Indonesia involves divers breathing from long tubes which have air pumped into them via a compressor on the surface (most often from rickety compressor on board a long boat – also known as a jukung).
Spearfishing is typically very selective, and leaves much of the reef as if the fishermen were never there.
Local fishermen are competing in the archipelago waters with industrial scale illegal fishing. Some of the illegal fishing practices can be highly destructive to the coral reef ecosystems, such as cyanide and dynamite fishing. Indonesia has recently taken a hardline with unauthorized fishing, with the current policy of blowing up and sinking boats seized from the illegal fisheries. This policy seems to be making a dent in the illegal fishing industry, which costs Indonesia an estimated 30 Trillion IDR (slightly more than 3 Billion USD) per year.
Spearfishing and other selective fishing methods (while not perfect), are much more sustainable and friendly to the reef than methods such as indiscriminate nets or dynamite fishing. This is primarily due to the fact that they limit, and depending on the method can even eliminate, bycatch. Unfortunately, as more coral reef ecosystems are impacted by unsustainable fishing practices and climate changes, local fishermen practicing a selective harvest such as this may find fewer and fewer healthy reefs on which to fish.
Subsistence fishing is to some degree opportunistic and is likely to become more so as the worlds fisheries become more and more depleted. It is predicted that by 2048 there will not be a viable commercial fishery left in the worlds oceans. Unfortunately, this often means that subsistence fishermen become more and more likely to target species that are under larger scale threat, such as sharks.
In the Pacific, an estimated 3.3 million sharks are killed each year as bycatch in commercial fisheries. Other threats facing sharks worldwide include habitat destruction, pollution, and fisheries targeting sharks for shark fins, shark liver oil, as well as sport and recreational fishing. As apex predators, sharks are crucial to the marine environment, particularly coral reefs where they are important for maintaining balance in the food web. Shark population declines reverberate throughout the coral reef ecosystem.
More images can be seen in our Indonesia Underwater Gallery