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Study: Indonesia’s extensive network of marine reserves are poorly managed

  • Indonesia has put nearly a tenth of its waters under some form of protection, and intends to expand this to nearly a third by 2045.
  • However, a study has found that none of Indonesia’s existing marine protected areas demonstrates effective and sustainable management, and that the government is off-pace to reach its 30% target by 2045.
  • Key challenges in the effective management shortcomings, the study says, are lack of funding and poor financial planning for the MPAs.
  • Indonesia is home to some of the most diverse marine life on the planet, which plays an important role in the domestic and global supply of seafood.

JAKARTA — Indonesia has put nearly a tenth of its national waters, the sixth-largest maritime jurisdiction of any country, under some form of protection. But poor management means these protected areas haven’t been to achieve their biodiversity conservation goals, a new study says.

Indonesia’s 411 marine protected areas — parks, reserves and maritime conservation areas — cover a combined surface area of 284,100 square kilometers (109,700 square miles), an area larger than the U.K. For all their size, these MPAs account for less than 9% of Indonesia’s waters; the country is targeting to expand that coverage to 10% by 2030 and then 30% by 2045 as part of its contribution to the global “30 by 30” conservation goal, which aims to protect 30% of the world’s land and seas by 2030.

Despite these lofty goals, none of the existing MPAs has demonstrated effective or sustainable management based on the government’s own standards, researchers have found. In addition, the country’s expansion of the MPA network isn’t proceeding fast enough to meet the 30% goal by 2045, the researchers wrote in a recently published study in the journal Biological Conservation.

“Research proved that MPA is one of the most effective tools for fishery management,” lead author Lusita Meilana, a postdoctoral researcher at China’s Xiamen University, told Mongabay in an email. “However, the benefit of the MPA to support sustainable fishery shall be seen when they are managed effectively.”

Lagoon in Raja Ampat. Photo credit: Rhett A. Butler
A lagoon in the Raja Ampat Ampat Islands in Indonesian Papua. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.
Common bluestripe snapper in the Coral Triangle. Photo credit: Rhett A. Butler
Common bluestripe snappers in the Coral Triangle. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

Lusita said her team evaluated the management of 61 MPAs — 10 managed by the national government and 51 by local governments — through interview-based surveys that were coordinated by Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries with assistance from the Ministry of National Development Planning, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Finance, universities and NGOs. The data were then evaluated using a managerial effectiveness evaluation tool, known as EVIKA, which was introduced by the fisheries ministry in 2020, Lusita added.

The researchers found that Indonesia has achieved more than the national annual objective of creating MPAs in recent years and would meet its 10% national target by 2030. But the present trend of establishing MPAs won’t help the country attain its 2045 global target, according to the study’s modeling.

The authors also found that none of the evaluated MPAs demonstrated effective and sustainable management, likely due to lack of financial support, human resources, facilities and infrastructure. Other shortcomings include poor community knowledge, conservation target conditions, and socioeconomic conditions, the paper noted.

“Despite having created an expansive network of conservation areas covering 32.5 million hectares [325,000 km2, or 125,500 mi2 ] of land and water, Indonesia still struggles to adequately fund the majority of these areas, which leaves them without enough staff or other human resources, transportation, or other infrastructure to support daily operations,” Lusita said.

“The extra expenditure necessary to carry out the ambitious plans has already been in place to expand the maritime management system to include more underrepresented areas only serves to worsen the situation,” she added. “This restriction not only poses a significant obstacle to the creation of new protected areas but also to the protection of biodiversity, particularly in terms of providing sufficient funding for effective management.”

Coral reef in the Komodo Islands marine protected area, Indonesia. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

The study found that MPAs managed by the national government performed better overall than those managed by local governments, indicating that local MPAs received inconsistent support, especially when it came to funding. It added that MPAs older than three years showed better management than newer ones, demonstrating the importance of long-term dedication and effort in achieving management effectiveness.

The Raja Ampat Islands MPA ranked first on the list, yet it was described as displaying optimum management according to EVIKA along with 23 others. A total of 37 MPAs were categorized as showing minimum management performance.

“Our findings show the management status of marine conservation areas and provide recommendations on how to improve their management and avoid fishery collapse in surrounding areas,” Lusita said.

Indonesia’s marine biodiversity plays an important role in the domestic and global supply of seafood. The country is home to some of the most diverse marine life on the planet, especially in its eastern region that falls within the Pacific Coral Triangle, an area renowned for its richness of corals and reef fish.

Elle Wibisono, a senior manager for marine protected areas and fisheries at the Jakarta-based NGO Konservasi Indonesia, who was not involved in the research, said the study was timely as the fisheries ministry is planning to formally launch its 2045 MPA vision.

She noted that EVIKA only assesses the management effectiveness of MPAs, and not the MPAs’ impact on the environment, local livelihoods and climate change resilience. “So, as we think about EVIKA/this paper and its findings/MPA management in Indonesia, we need to remember that, all of that is separate from the actual benefits or drawbacks of MPAs, if any,” Elle told Mongabay in an email.

She agreed that having sustainable funding is a key common challenge for MPA management in Indonesia and elsewhere, adding that it has pushed countries and NGOs to pursue different financing options, such as blended financial facilities, trust funds, blue bonds, and debt-for-nature swaps.

“The idea is that relying only on government and philanthropic funding would never be enough (at least in Indonesia) and would not be sustainable (donors will eventually stop donating),” she said. “I think [the Indonesian government] are doing the best they could with what very little they have.”

Maratua Island in the Derawan Archipelago off East Kalimantan. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Maratua Island in the Derawan Islands marine protected area off East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

There are now 17,783 MPAs worldwide, covering 7.93 % of the world’s oceans, according to 2022 data from the U.N. Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre. But not much is scientifically known about the actual effectiveness of this network to biodiversity conservation. The study authors said Indonesia’s MPA system offers an excellent case study to evaluate the recent progress in marine protection as the government has made numerous efforts over many years to evaluate the effectiveness of MPAs, following a number of ambitious commitments regarding MPA extent, the adoption of both traditional and official state conservation practices, and the implementation of several coastal protection tools and policies.

Lusita’s team suggested the government should consider the study’s findings to guide the effective allocation of human and financial resources for future MPA management and adjust the existing management. She noted that some of the co-authors of the paper came from the government and some data and information were provided by the government.

“I believe they are aware of and agree with the recommendations suggested in this paper,” she said.


Meilana, L., Fang, Q., Susanto, H. A., Widiastutik, R., Syaputra, D. E., Ikhumken, H. O., … Liu, Z. (2023). How Indonesian marine protected areas (MPAs) are doing: A management performance-based evaluation. Biological Conservation, 282, 110033. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2023.110033

Basten Gokkon is a senior staff writer for Indonesia at Mongabay. Find him on Twitter @bgokkon.

See related from this reporter:

Indonesia announces plan to protect 10% of its seas by 2030, and 30% by 2045

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