Berau, East Kalimantan. The continued practice of potassium cyanide fishing in the Berau Marine Conservation Area off East Kalimantan has damaged 60 percent of the area’s coral reefs and is threatening the area’s wealth of marine species, officials have warned.
Rusli Asdar, marine program coordinator for the provincial chapter of the World Wide Fund for Nature, said the increase in potassium cyanide fishing began five years ago with a boom in the price of groupers for export to China and Japan.
He said that because of the practice, some 60 percent of reefs in the 480,000-hectare conservation area were now categorized as damaged.
“It’s truly devastating that while some people are trying to conserve the environment, there are still many fishermen using this highly toxic chemical,” he said.
“It doesn’t just destroy the coral in a given area, but it also spreads out and damages coral and marine life over a wider area.”
Fuadi, the head of the Berau district maritime agency, said the majority of residents on the main islands of Derawan and Maratua inside the conservation area were traditional fishermen.
“A lot of these people continue to use potassium cyanide to catch fish, particularly groupers, that live among the coral reefs,” he said. “The problem has gotten worse with the increase in the price of these fish.”
Potassium cyanide fishing is generally used to stun fish so they can be captured alive. Groupers caught this way are typically sold to seafood restaurants that display them in aquariums.
Fuadi said the use of potassium cyanide in fishing had been outlawed since 2004, but the practice remained common.
He said his agency was working to educate the fishermen on the dangers of the practice and encouraging them to use other, more environmentally friendly practices, as well as stepping up patrols to catch out any offenders.
“We’ve repeatedly asked them to stop doing this, but the truth is that it’s still going on,” Fuadi said.
“The fact is, it’s just easier for them to catch fish using potassium cyanide than to employ traditional methods. We believe they are getting the chemicals from outside Berau.”
Rusli said that in addition to the destruction of the coral, the conservation area was also threatened by the damage to its mangrove swamps and large swaths of sea grass, which are home to dugongs.
“We need to keep protecting the reefs, the mangroves and the sea grass,” he said.
“If the sea life here disappears, so will the tourists. Not only that, but the fishermen won’t be able to find any fish. They have to understand this and work together to protect the area.”