In those decades, he recalls that whitefishes and mackerel tunas were plentiful, and even swarmed not far from the coastline. Today, he must fish further from the coast for fewer catches. Every morning, Riduansyah departs at seven o’clock and must roam the seas for two hours to find the perfect fishing spot. Thus, he must also bring lunch and medical kits on these excursions, as the heat from the tropical sun would make him weak and dizzy. Despite the difficulties, Riduansyah still continues to fish. He eventually established Boko Lestari Fishermen’s Association along with other fishermen of Derawan Islands.
On the other hand, Muhammad Safar has a different story. The diminishing catches compared to a couple of decades ago forced Safar to work different jobs, even though it was his underwater fishing skill that brought him from his hometown in West Nusa Tenggara Province to settle in Derawan Island.
Safar recalled that he used to have a high income just from underwater fishing. In a single day, he could sell five kilograms [11 pounds] of lobsters along with other catches. With his skill, he could gain five million Rupiahs every day and even owned several ships.
“Back in the days, I did not have to dive far away for a bountiful catch,” Safar recalled.
However, in 2009, Safar decided to stop underwater fishing for a living since the number of catches were no longer worth the effort. He also had to constantly move around and take longer boat trips to find decent fishing spots. He had grown tired and finally decided to work other jobs using the leftover assets from his fishing career. He then opened a bicycle rental shop in Derawan Island.
Despite the challenges, Safar and other islanders still depend on the sea for a living. The tourists who rented his bicycles came to Derawan Islands to enjoy the beauty of its marine ecosystem. Fresh seafoods from Derawan’s sea are also magnets for tourists, aside from its beautiful island, coral reefs and marine life. He could not imagine what the future holds if the sea deteriorates.
Safar and Riduansyah’s stories illustrated the increasing challenges of fishermen nowadays. It is no surprise that the number of fishermen in East Kalimantan Province decreased significantly. The Ministry of Sea and Fisheries (Indonesian: Kementerian Kelautan dan Perikanan, KKP) reported that in 2010 the East Kalimantan Province (previously was merged with North Kalimantan Province) had 122,038 fishermen. In 2021, the number of fishermen in was only 46,236 in East Kalimantan Province and 17,753 in North Kalimantan Province.
With the inevitable rise of temperatures in the region, fishermen’s lives were becoming increasingly precarious. Research published in Lancet Health involving Ike Anggraini, a lecturer at Mulawarman University’s Faculty of Public Health, focused on East Kalimantan Province’s Berau Regency. Anggraini, who had a doctorate degree from the University of Indonesia, found that deforestation spanning from 2002 to 2018, had contributed to almost one-degree Celsius temperature rise, 0.95 degree Celsius to be exact.