Bombing in the Mentawais

Fishermen in Indonesia are killing more than just fish

Fishermen using bombs to kill hundreds of fish—along with the reef and other sea animals—in one destructive blast. Photo: Carter

Like shooting fish in a barrel. If that barrel was made of one of the world’s most precious reefs. And if by shooting you mean throwing homemade bombs that leave craters 3 yards in diameter and kill all living things near it. So yes, what’s going on in the Mentawais right now is just like shooting fish in a barrel. As idiotic as that is.

“For over a month now, the Playgrounds area has had at least three boats bombing our reefs every day,” says the owner of one of the surf resorts in the area. “When the weather is good, they can do more than five cycles of bombing and collecting the dead fish in a day. Each cycle is between five to eight bombs. Calculating a low average, we estimate more than 2,250 bombs have been exploded in our 15-mile radius area.”

The owner of another nearby resort is equally disturbed: “Countless animals and acres of coral have been killed. It was a sad day for me personally when the dugong that has been living around the resort for years washed up on the beach dead after a boat’s bomb attack.”

“Every time the surf season ends these guys descend,” says Jess Ponting, Director of the Center for Surf Research at SDSU. “It seems more concentrated this year, but perhaps they are just working closer to the surf resorts, or perhaps there are now more surf resorts, where people see it and are horrified by it. These are very remote islands and normally they just get away with it. This is being done on a commercial scale by people from the Sumatran mainland (most likely Sibolga) over a hundred miles away. This is not poor local fishermen feeding their families on a subsistence level.”

Unfortunately, these methods aren’t anything new. Back in 2005, an article in SURFER recounted a police crackdown on these “fishermen” that involved a high-speed chase, guns, and violence. But the problem was far from solved, and has remained a practice in the region since. Ill-equipped with resources and equipment, local law enforcement face an uphill battle against the growing number of boats engaged in these practices in this very remote area.

“Once all the reef is dead—and 86 percent of Indonesia’s reefs are threatened, most will be dead by 2020 at the current rate of destruction—there is nowhere for the fish stocks to replenish,” says Ponting. “It is essentially pulling the rug out from under the local marine ecosystem. This compromises the ability of local fishermen to make a living and the ability of a coastal/marine tourism industry to grow.”

Those living in the Mentawais are now desperate for change. “Although we have called every agency possible, nothing has been done and the boats are still operating as we speak. The goal is to help Indonesians feel strongly about protecting their waters from bomb boats, and nudge them into action,” says one of the local surf camp owners. “Time is against us. Please spread the word.”

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