Indonesia is the largest seaweed producing country in the world, with an annual production of about 10 tons (wet weight). Rote Ndao, East Nusa Tenggara, is also one of the main centers for the seaweed industry with a land area of 32 thousand hectares. The government believes that this cultivation can be a solution to boost the economy of coastal communities. Apart from being an economic commodity, seaweed also plays a role in climate change mitigation scenarios because it has a high carbon absorption capacity.
With a strategic geographical location, Rote Ndao has high marine and fisheries potential to drive the economy. As reported by the official website of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (KKP), the waters of Rote Ndao have capture fisheries potential of 3.19 million tons per year and are known as the best seaweed-producing areas. The average production of dried seaweed during the 2014-2018 period was 16,693.4 tons per year.
In addition to high demand for export markets, mostly to China, this cultivation system is relatively easy and inexpensive because it does not require high technology; and can get results in a relatively fast time. Just 45 days, seaweed farmers can enjoy the harvest, which is usually for every kilogram of dried seaweed marketed at a price range of Rp 20,000-25,000.
For the people of Rote Ndao, seaweed cultivation has been known since the 1990s and has become a source of income. However, this seaweed cultivation practice also has a negative impact on marine ecosystems. “Land used for seaweed cultivation competes with coral reefs and seagrass beds. In many cases, seagrass beds are eroded because they are considered competitors for seaweed growth. People also often use mangrove wood to make cultivation facilities, such as cultivation stakes, because of its strong resistance in water,” said M Ilman, Director of Oceans Program at Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara.
Ilman further explained that seagrass beds are one of the largest carbon storage ecosystems after mangroves, with the ability to store 120 tons of carbon per hectare (Alongi, 2015). The destruction of seagrass beds will further encourage greenhouse gas emissions. Damage to seagrass beds is also estimated to be one of the triggers for the decline in water quality which causes a decrease in the health of local residents.
Rote Ndao Regency has more than 20 villages where the majority of the people depend on seaweed farming for the economy. Meanwhile, most of the district's waters are in direct contact with the Savu Sea Waters National Park, a 3.35 million hectare conservation area with high biodiversity.
"For this reason, we must find a mediation so that the national park is maintained, while the people's income is not disturbed," added Rizal Algamar, Executive Director of YKAN.
Since 2017, YKAN has provided assistance in Rote, specifically in Oelolot Village and Mbueain Village. Within two years, the rate of destruction of seagrass beds, mangroves, and coral reefs as a result of seaweed cultivation decreased by 100%. Several groups have also succeeded in maintaining continuity of production by utilizing nursery techniques. The existence of this nursery is also a breakthrough for seaweed farmers, because it cuts the amount of capital and makes it easier for seaweed farmers. The reason is, before there was a nursery, every time the planting season was about to start, seaweed farmers had to buy seeds in other villages.
On the other hand, YKAN has also initiated a forum, namely the Conservation Kiosk which is able to further encourage people to carry out sustainable cultivation. Kiosk Conservation opens market access for farmers, access to information, and access to financial services. Inaugurated at the end of last August, the Conservation Kiosk, which is also the result of a collaboration between YKAN and the Tahija Foundation, is expected to increase farmers' bargaining power in selling their seaweed and provide economic incentives for conservation efforts.
In addition, YKAN also assists in regional governance of seaweed villages which are the buffers of national parks so that there is no overlapping utilization. Thus, there is a special area for tourist areas, shipping lanes, seaweed cultivation areas, and drying. "This is important to reduce conflict, while maintaining the quality of seaweed from possible contamination," added Ilman.
Sustainable seaweed cultivation fosters hope for the people of Rote Ndao to achieve economic prosperity. Not only being a source of local economy, good seaweed cultivation also helps maintain the entire ecosystem, including the sustainability of seagrass beds, which play a major role in overcoming climate change. Seaweed is also useful as a natural water filter and has been identified to reduce the rate of ocean acidification. Seaweed is also a natural solution in dealing with plastic waste. In recent years, seaweed has been developed as a material for making biodegradable plastics, even as packaging materials that can be consumed (edible).
Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara (YKAN) is a scientific-based non-profit organization that has been present in Indonesia since 2014. With the mission of protecting lands and waters as life support systems, we provide innovative solutions to realize the harmony of nature and humans through effective natural resource management, prioritizing a non-confrontational approach, and building a network of partnerships with all stakeholders for a sustainable Indonesia. For more information, visit ykan.or.id.