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Bali Ocean Health Index

This post was originally published in the Jakarta Globe on November 1, 2018. 

A recently published marine assessment gave Bali a lower score than the national average in terms of ocean health, with the average quality of seawater surrounding the island still below the standard set by the provincial government.

Bali scored 51 out of 100 in the Ocean Health Index published this week, compared with a national score of 64 for Indonesia. Higher scores are indicative of higher benefits that could derived without compromising the ocean.

The Ocean Health Index, founded by Conservation International [and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis] and first completed in 2012 on a global level, is a tool that measures key elements of ocean health and seeks to guide decision makers towards more sustainable use of the ocean.

It measures several key aspects, such as water condition, biodiversity, tourism and recreation, and coastal protection. In 2016, the index assessed 221 exclusive economic zones, with Indonesia ranked 145th.

The framework for this assessment has also been used by independent groups to measure ocean health at a smaller scale, which was the case with the Bali Ocean Health Index (OHI+), initiated in 2016.

Speaking during a side event at the 2018 Our Ocean Conference in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Tuesday, I Made Gunaja, who heads the Bali provincial marine and fisheries office, said the island's assessment took two years to complete due to several challenges, including insufficient funding, lack of adequate cooperation between institutions involved in the process, and inconsistency in the monitoring of data crucial to evaluating ocean health.

"The assessment highlighted the need for better data availability and sustainable management of Bali's ocean," said I Made Iwan Dewantama of Conservation International Indonesia, and lead program manager of the Bali OHI+.

Gunaja said the assessment is useful to come up with better plans. "This will give us an indicator of how we can proceed with a better action plan to improve the health of Bali's seas," Gunaja said.

The assessment showed that the level of chemical pollutants continues to increase in Bali's waters, at a maximum annual increase of 4 percent. However, Gunaja did not elaborate on the source of the pollution.

In terms of carbon storage, more than 70 percent of Bali's mangrove and seagrass ecosystems are healthy, but continue to face threats. The index gave Bali a carbon storage score of 24 out of a 100, stating that the low number may be due to massive infrastructure development in coastal areas, which have reduced mangrove areas on the island.

Bali scored the highest in its biodiversity assessment, as it is home to more than 900 marine species, 38 of which are listed as "near threatened."

Despite its low score compared with the national level, Bali's biophysical and cultural advantages strongly support marine resource conservation, the assessment concluded.

This includes the Nyegara-Gunung philosophy, in which the sea is considered sacred, as well as the bendega, or fishermen, who make up the social and religious structure of the Balinese people.

Bali issued a regulation on bendega last year to protect their role in the sustainable management of marine resources, paving the way to improve the economy of the province's coastal communities.

"Bali is extremely dependent on the health of the ocean, whether it's physically or spiritually," Gunaja said.

He added that the Balinese people's unique sociocultural ties with the environment and the sea in particular, is known as Tri Hita Karana, which became the basis of a sustainable development forum launched on the sidelines of the 2018 International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group Annual Meetings in Bali earlier in October.

Gunaja said Tri Hata Karana was also the basis of the OHI+ study.

Tri Hata Karana is a Balinese philosophy, wherein happiness is regarded as the attainment of harmony among people, nature and spiritual matters.

The Bali assessment may also serve as a prototype to perform similar evaluations in Indonesia's other provinces.