chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
April 05, 2023

ABA ROLI Mentors Journalists in Indonesia: Temperature Rise and Coral Damage Threaten Locals’ Income

In September 2021, ABA ROLI kicked-off the implementation of the three-year regional program, Right to Resilience: Community-Led Advocacy for Human Rights, Political Participation, and Good Governance in Island Communities Impacted by Climate Change (R2R Program), supported by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. The program’s primary goal is to build the capacity of communities in island nations, including the Philippines and Indonesia, to participate in political and decision-making processes, and to encourage the governments to take action to mitigate the impact of climate change on human rights. 

The R2R program trains journalists on reporting on the impact of climate change on human rights, leading to the publication of participating journalists in major news outlets, including Nofiyatul Chalimah, Journalist at Kaltim Post. The workshops helped journalists overcome a wide-range of challenges by advancing public understanding of the serious state of the environment and climate crises; fostered knowledge-sharing and networking among participating journalists; and strengthened reporting on climate change and human rights, including supporting journalist safety.

On Janaury 15, 2023, Kaltim Post Group published the following article by Nofiyatul Chalimah, Journalist at Kaltim Post. It was also printed in the outlet’s newspaper. Originally in Bahasa Indonesia, the article was translated by Muhammad Reza Zaini and Shinta Permata Sari, American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative.

Conditions of coastal fishing village in Derawan Island

Conditions of coastal fishing village in Derawan Island

Photo Credit: Nofiyatul Chalimah, Kaltim Post

Since 1975, Riduansyah has fished for his livelihood in the seas around the Derawan Islands in the Berau Regency District of East Kalimantan Province. However, 1988 is the year he remembers most, because then, as he calls it, was the heyday of traditional, small-scale fishing in Derawan and Maratua Islands. Back then, many fish distributors came to the area and fishes were plentiful, unlike now.

Nofiyatul Chalimah – Berau

“Fishing was much easier in the olden days. We could catch as much as 100 kilograms [221 pounds] around the area of Sangalaki [one of islands forming the Derawan Islands] to the reef [a coral spot not far from Sangalaki Island]. Nowadays, we can only catch a mere 15 kilograms [33 pounds].”


Fisherman born in Maratua in 1961

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.

While it took 150 years for the planet to reach 0.9-degree Celsius temperature increase, in Berau [Regency] it happened in only 16 years,"

Ike Anggraini

Lecturer, Mulawarman University’s Faculty of Public Health, focused on East Kalimantan Province’s Berau Regency

If there is no meaningful mitigation effort, it was projected that a two-degree Celsius temperature rise will likely happen in a similar timeframe. Even though many people did not notice, this in fact impacted their everyday lives. Anggraini and her colleagues found that this deforestation-driven temperature rise contributed to eight percent of all deaths. Furthermore, the rise of temperature also impacted workers’ productivity. Research in 2018 found that 0.31 working hours was determined to be unsafe for work due to heat waves, since it could impact mental health and increase accident risks. It could also impact physical health, including the risk of heat stroke, over-exhaustion, fainting, and heat cramps. 

Not only for humans, but the increasing heat wave will negatively impact the coral reefs. The ideal temperature for coral reefs to thrive in tropical climate is between 21 to 29-degree Celsius, an increase of just 1 to 2-degree Celsius will lead to coral bleaching.

Coral bleaching is a condition where zooxanthella (symbiotic algae living within the coral reefs) is released from coral tissue due to stress from temperature change, which is marked by the color of the entire coral fading to white. Furthermore, the Reef Health Monitoring from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia reported that in 2021, there was only 32.8% hard coral covers in this area.

The phenomenon of coral bleaching in prolonged conditions will cause coral death. At an advanced level, the effects are not only on individual corals but also on coral colonies and ecosystems in general,”

Irvan Ahmad Fikri

Site Coordinator for Derawan’s Marine Protected Area, WWF Indonesia Foundation

If it is left untreated, damage to the ecosystem will eventually put the fishermen’s lives at even greater risk, since their lives are depending on the sea around Derawan Islands.  

Learn more about ABA ROLI’s work across Asia and the Pacific.