Indonesia: The World’s Ocean Hero?

Can Indonesia be the leader the world needs to save our oceans?

Indonesia: The World’s Ocean Hero?
Credit: Associated Press, M. Urip

It seems every month a new story shines light on the perilous state of the world’s oceans. There’s pollution – 19 billion pounds of plastic enters the ocean every year, and microplastics are now being found in bottled water, fish, and even table salt. Climate change is killing coral reefs, and there is evidence that bleaching events – which are becoming more frequent – could harm fish diversity and ecosystems. And then there’s the impact of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which is decimating species and pushing some marine ecosystems to the brink of collapse.

“Our oceans are in trouble and a number of challenges need to be addressed if they are to be returned to good health,” said Michele Kuruc, vice president of ocean policy at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Unsurprisingly, the business-as-usual scenario is dire: a future ocean with more plastic in it than marine life, with few healthy corals, and devoid of iconic species such as bluefin tuna, sharks, or manta rays. For countries that depend on their oceans, there is an even more worrying risk – that of massive economic loss. The ocean economy was estimated in 2015 to be worth $24 trillion, and two-thirds of that was at risk of decline if protection was not made a higher priority.

The challenge? No nation has stood up to push for a stronger ocean policy framework, leading to a crisis of the commons. However, that may be changing. Led by get-it-done, straightforward Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti, known to many as Ibu Susi, Indonesia has started to tackle this problem head-on, most visibly through the destruction of illegal foreign fishing vessels, which has had a huge impact in reducing IUU fishing in Indonesia. Even more promising are signs that the country may be prepping to take this work global.