Ecotourism and mangrove adoption in Pangandaran

Tourist with mangrove seedling.
Two girls planting mangrove seedling.

Tourist with mangrove seedling. Picture: World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Two girls planting mangrove seedling. Picture: World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)

'We're here to protect the mangroves! We have a responsibility to look after these plants and we want to tell everyone how important mangroves are!' Fifteen-year-old Saraswati knows what she’s talking about: she's a Mangrove Ambassador.

Pangandaran on the Indonesian island of Java now has almost 400 Mangrove Ambassadors. Like Saraswati, many of them are schoolchildren, who play an active role in rehabilitating and caring for the mangrove forests along Java's southern coast. Instead of theoretical classroom-based learning, groups of students and their teachers regularly visit the mangrove swamps, where they plant saplings, monitor and record the growth of the young plants, and measure the salinity of the water. Saraswati explains why mangroves are so important for the ecosystem: 'The mangroves protect the coast and prevent erosion. They provide breeding and feeding grounds for fish, shrimp and crab, and they protect people from tsunamis!'

Tsunamis are an ever-present threat in Pangandaran. In 2006, the resort was almost completely destroyed by a massive tidal wave, with great loss of life. Since then, local residents have come to understand the vital importance of targeted action to mitigate the consequences of climate change. Replanting the mangroves is one of these initiatives. Mangroves play multiple roles in the local ecosystem: sometimes described as 'Nature's super-heroes', they not only protect the coasts from storms and tidal waves, but are also extremely effective carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide and storing it away in their sediments. They act as a water filtration system as well, thus improving water quality, which in turn benefits other ecosystems such as coral reefs.

The Sustainable Tourism through Energy Efficiency with Adaptation and Mitigation Measures (STREAM) project develops and implements various mitigation and adaptation measures aimed at supporting sustainable infrastructural development in Pangandaran. The project is being implemented by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) as the lead agency in conjunction with two local NGOs and the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism. Pangandaran was selected for the project because it is both one of Java's most popular tourist destinations and is also particularly impacted by climate change. As well as supporting pilot projects which focus on energy efficiency and renewable energies for hotels and restaurants, STREAM's main objective is to rehabilitate natural coastal protection systems such as mangroves and coral reefs. The International Climate Initiative (IKI) set up by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) has provided around 1.2 million euros in funding for the wide-ranging STREAM project since 2010.

Some of the project funding has been used to set up a Mangrove Learning Centre in Pangandaran, where schoolchildren and their families can learn about mangrove ecosystems. The Centre is also proving very popular with tourists, who are keen to find out more about mangroves. The Centre has some very impressive statistics to share with its visitors: since 2010, around 35,000 trees have been planted in a mangrove conservation area of more than 17 hectares, with a current survival rate of 90 per cent. The scheme has reduced carbon emissions by several hundred tonnes and more than 2,000 volunteers have participated in the conservation of 'Nature's super-heroes'.

Visitors to Pangandaran can also take a Green Energy Tour - a cruise through the mangrove swamps – to gain first-hand experience of this vital ecosystem. The highlight of the tour is a visit to a tree nursery, where tourists can select a sapling which they then plant with the schoolchildren's help. Each tree is named after the person who plants them. Social networks such as Facebook are used to help create a long-term link between the tree and the 'mangrove sponsor'. The schoolchildren provide updates on the sapling's progress, along with photographs so that the sponsor can see how well their tree is growing. The people of Pangandaran have lovingly dubbed the scheme 'mangrove adoption' and are proud of their approach to ecotourism, which is working very well. The revenue generated from the scheme is channelled back into the mangrove project.

Until the tsunami in 2006, tourism was the area's main source of income. The disaster cost the people of Pangandaran not only their homes but also their livelihoods. Hotels and restaurants have now been rebuilt and tourists are returning to the area. Water sports - swimming, surfing and diving – are its main attractions, all of which depend on a healthy environment.

After the tsunami, Indonesia's Environment Ministry described the coral reef of Java's southern coast as a devastated ecosystem; it was thought that just 10-20 per cent of the coral was still alive. This massive damage had many causes: natural disasters such as storms, tidal waves and rising temperatures, on the one hand, and human impacts, including overfishing, coastal pollution and sports divers' carelessness, on the other. It is hoped that sustainable tourism, with a particular focus on nature conservation, will prevent any further damage to the coral.

As with the mangroves, the reef is now being rehabilitated and new corals have been introduced. A concrete block was installed to replace the natural rock, which was severely degraded, and the young corals are developing well on this artificial base. The artificial reefs have a survival rate of 97 per cent, with coral growth averaging 2 cm in just five months – an impressive achievement. The rehabilitation project involves experts but also local tourist guides, diving instructors and fishermen and -women. They attend workshops to learn theoretical and practical skills, with a focus on low-impact diving and fishing techniques, and are involved in monitoring and assessing the development of the reef's sensitive marine organisms.

Devin Husnander is a teacher at MTsN Junior High School in Pangandaran. He has been watching and worrying about the impacts of climate change in his home region for years.'Normally, the rainy season starts in the third quarter of the year, but nowadays the months that in the past had plenty of rainfall are very dry. And when the rains finally come, they are torrential downpours, with very bad thunderstorms,' he says. He welcomes the mangrove project and the opportunity to involve his pupils, which he sees as a very positive step. 'Carbon emissions are decreasing as a result of the STREAM project and that gives everyone a good feeling.' And he has a prediction for the future: 'The next generation will undoubtedly take better care of the natural environment. Here in Pangandaran, we are already setting a good example for many other affected regions, and that's something we are very proud of!'