Let the Seas Rise and Feed the Poor

Helping marine biodiversity flourish is a means of participating in God’s work, says an Indonesian theologian.

Indonesia is the largest archipelagic nation in the world. It’s made up of an astounding 17,000 islands, with 70 percent of the population living in coastal areas. Many view the country as a divers’ haven because it is home to vibrant coral reefs teeming with colorful fish, and it’s also where the largest mangrove ecosystems on the planet exist.

But my country is facing a severe marine ecological crisis today because of destructive fishing, pollution, climate change, and greenhouse gas emissions. Our ecosystem of mangroves, seagrass, and coral reefs is in decline. Fish stock is also decreasing, while other sea creatures are frequently poisoned by land-based pollution.

This crisis is a serious threat in the Indonesian context, where ecological and social lives are often inseparable. Over half of the population’s annual protein intake comes from fish and seafood, and around 7 million people depend heavily on the sea for their livelihoods. But now, more than 2.5 million Indonesian households involved in small-scale fishery activities are at risk of losing their way of life and source of income. Fishing grounds are increasingly limited, triggering conflicts among traditional fishermen.

Poor people in our coastal areas have suffered the most due to their dependence on the sea for survival. Many use traditional techniques and equipment such as pudi—fishing weirs that channel fish to a particular location—and bubu, fish traps made of bamboo, to collect various kinds of seafood during low tide to feed themselves.

The marine ecological crisis, however, is increasingly destroying their source of food. It’s also erasing our culture of caring for the needy, in that coastal communities often give …

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