From vulnerability to resilience

While successful examples of large-scale (5 000-10 000 ha) ecological wetland/mangrove rehabilitation projects exist worldwide, mangrove rehabilitation efforts in Indonesia, both large and small, have mainly failed. The majority of projects (both government programs and non-government initiatives) have oversimplified the technical processes of mangrove rehabilitation, favouring the direct planting of a restricted subset of mangrove species (from the family Rhizophoracea), commonly in the lower half of the intertidal system (from Mean Sea Level down to Lowest Atmospheric Tide) where mangroves, by and large, do not naturally grow. Aside from lack of appropriate technical assessment, these lower inter-tidal mudflats are often targeted for rehabilitation because true degraded mangrove forests are frequently linked to tenurial issues that require significant effort and investment to resolve.

Ecological Mangrove Rehabilitation (EMR) has been implemented and well documented for the past several decades in New World mangrove systems and was selected as a best practice for adaptation and trials in Indonesia. Whereas in the US, the five-step process primarily focuses on biophysical assessments and eco-hydrological repair, when applied to the Indonesian scenario, EMR requires both lower-cost biophysical approaches and greater attention to socio-cultural-political approaches common in sustainable development and coastal resource management programs.

The adaptation of EMR was initially tested in small-scale projects, ranging from 12-33 ha in sites from the islands of Sumatera and Sulawesi. Biophysical adaptations included use of low-cost biophysical assessment methods, reliance on manual labour, strategic breaching of aquaculture ponds dike walls, manual construction of tidal channels, and human assisted propagule dispersal while socio-political adaptations included land tenure settlement, increased use of training of trainers programs, gender assessments and sensitisation, enhanced community organising, coordination with numerous government agencies and participatory monitoring. Initial projects succeeded in rehabilitating mangrove coverage and diversity, while catalysing community-based or collaborative management. The most recent Community Based Ecological Mangrove Rehabilitation (CBEMR) project took place on Tanakeke Island, South Sulawesi, where 1776 ha of mangroves were reduced to approximately 576 ha over two decades due to development of 1200 ha of aquaculture ponds. At least 800 ha of ponds on the island were disused as of the start of a four-year project to restore 400 ha at a cost of US$590,000 and initiate adaptive collaborative management. Local communities from six villages willingly made their ponds available for rehabilitation, as their main livelihood had switched to seaweed mariculture and they recognised the urgent need to restore mangrove coverage for fisheries value and storm protection. The initial site restored (43 ha) has naturally recruited to an average density of 2171 stems/ha., 32 months after initial restoration.

Three more recent sites have already demonstrated natural recruitment between 767-1450 seedlings within 7-10 months after restoration. Local communities have developed mangrove management groups and regulations for both remnant mangrove forests and rehabilitation areas, which have been acknowledged at higher levels of government. The implementation of gender analyses, gender sensitisation and the development of Womangrove groups have been crucial to ensure the equal involvement of women in the process of mangrove rehabilitation and management. The process of CBEMR at this point is being considered for upscaling and replication, and has been included as a best practice in both the South Sulawesi Provincial and Indonesian National Mangrove Strategies. The CBEMR process has been recommended by the Ministry of Forests – Natural and Protected Forest Management Agency (PHKA) as a requisite practice to restore the 4000 ha in the Tanjung Panjang Nature Reserve in Gorontalo Province, which nearly completely and illegally converted to aquaculture ponds over the past two decades. CBEMR and strategic breaching is also being considered for restoration in Indonesia’s largest contiguous converted mangrove forest, which includes 60 000 ha of largely abandoned and disused shrimp ponds in the Mahakam Delta, East Kalimantan. The proven effectiveness of the CBEMR process at small and medium scales relies on its ability to resolve both biophysical and socio-political issues underscoring mangrove forest degradation in Indonesia. If and when this is applied to large-scale restoration, it is sure that continued attention will need to be paid to both biophysical and socio-political approaches.

Facts and Figures


Tanakeke Island is located just off the mainland of South Sulawesi Province, Indonesia. A coral atoll, the island exhibits coral reef, seagrass and over-wash mangrove forest ecosystems, with a small proportion of terrestrial area. The main livelihood of most islanders is seaweed farming which takes place in expansive sub-tidal lagoons. Fishing along the reefs and out to sea is undertaken by the entire community of 10 073 inhabitants.

A: This landsat photo was taken in 1976, depicting 1776 hectares of intact over-wash mangrove forest. (Source:, Global Observatory for Ecosystem Services, Michigan State University,

During the 1990s, 1200 ha of the island’s 1776 ha of mangrove forest were converted to shrimp/milkfish aquaculture ponds. Of this total, 800 ha are community owned – yet largely disused – as Tanakeke Islanders have difficulty purchasing external inputs, maintaining dike walls and productivity, and have largely converted to seaweed mariculture. Tenure over 400 ha of converted mangrove forests has been granted to the Ministry of Transmigration, and as such has not yet been considered for mangrove rehabilitation. The remaining 576 ha of mangroves is frequently clear-felled, for charcoal production, fuelwood, construction poles, fishing equipment and structural supports for seaweed mariculture.

Of the 800 ha of community owned ponds, 400 ha were made available for Ecological Mangrove Rehabilitation (EMR) over a four year period, the process and results of which are discussed below.

Social organising and physical work were initiated and implemented by Mangrove Action Project – Indonesia as part of the 4.5 year, USD 7.7 million Restoring Coastal Livelihood (RCL) project funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and OXFAM-GB. Yayasan Konservasi Laut, a local NGO partner based in Makassar, provided community organising and policy assistance. Numerous government agencies were involved in terms of coordination, training, and policy development at four levels:

  1. Village level: Village Government, Community Representative Board (BPD);
  2. Sub-district/District level: Fisheries Dept., Forestry Dept., Planning Dept., Social Agency, Technical Outreach and Extension Agency (PPL), Multi-stakeholder Mangrove Management Working Group (KKMD);
  3. Provincial level: Fisheries Dept, Forestry Dept, Planning, Technical Outreach and Extension Agency (PPL), KKMD;
  4. National level: Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Forestry, Mangrove Management Agency (BPHM I), Multi-stakeholder Mangrove Management Working Group (KKMN).

The University of Hasanuddin provided technical support, background studies, guidance and eight university undergraduate and graduate volunteers. Additional, on-going technical support is being provided by National University of Singapore – Geography Department (modeling, substrate elevation measurements) and Charles Darwin University – Research Institute for Environment and Livelihoods (carbon stock assessment, livelihood monitoring guidance).

Main Objectives:

  • Improved hydrology and promotion of natural revegetation in 400 ha of disused aquaculture ponds with minimal need for planting mangroves.
  • 1250 – 3750 volunteer (not planted) seedlings established and growing healthy (compared to benchmark) three years after initial hydrological rehabilitation.
  • Re-establishment of the natural biodiversity of mangrove fauna (species and community associations) – based on previous surveys and interviews with elders.
  • Development of community based mangrove management regulations; primarily delineating sustainable timber harvest practices and zones, as well as village conservation forests (hutan pangandriang).
  • Improved community awareness and vigilance through formation of forest management learning groups (FMLGs) and “Womangrove” groups, development of sustainable livelihood alternatives and support of environmental education for school children.
  • Formation of a KKMD at the district level with a long-term mandate to guide conservation and sustainable utilisation of Tanakeke Island’s mangrove ecosystem.
  • Legitimisation of village community management plans by the KKMD.

Benefits to Community:

  • Storm protection. Villages on the Western end of the island have experienced extreme flooding events and erosion of landforms after conversion of mangroves to aquaculture.
  • Enhanced fisheries. Although not scientifically monitored, communities are currently monitoring crab, shrimp and fish populations in tidal creeks twice a year through participatory monitoring. Fisheries studies will be built into future projects, with the intent of re-establishing 75% of a functional fisheries equivalent to the mangrove area within seven years of restoration.
  • Improved growth of tree biomass. Current clear-felling practices (on 6-8 year cycles) and dense re-growth have resulted in low overall biomass production.
  • Increased resilience of the mangrove system due to enhanced biodiversity; especially re-establishment of mangrove species at lower intertidal elevations (Sonneratia alba, Avicennia marina and A. alba).
  • Development of non-timber forest products for subsistence use and local markets.

From the onset of the mangrove rehabilitation effort, local communities and other stakeholders expressed concern that improved mangrove management was essential to ensure the long-term ecosystem services and other benefits. Use of mangrove wood on the island is unavoidable, due to lack of terrestrial area, and distance to the mainland where liquefied petroleum gas and kerosene are sold. Nonetheless, lack of managed timber harvest was identified as the biggest threat to the future of Tanakeke’s mangroves. Clear felling for charcoal production (top) places villages at risk of increased impacts from waves, wind and flooding. Villages along the Western (windward) side of the island have all experienced increased flooding due to clear felling of coastal mangroves for charcoal production and pond development. Bottom: Villagers from Lantang Peo, Tanakeke Island, participated in a cookstove comparison between an “improved” fuel-efficient cookstove and a pair of traditional stoves. This activity was run as part of a Forest Management Field School, intended to develop more resilient socio-ecological systems.

This is an excerpt from CASE STUDY: Community Based Ecological Mangrove Rehabilitation (CBEMR) in Indonesia
From small (12-33 ha) to medium scales (400 ha) with pathways for adoption at larger scales (>5000 ha) by 
Ben Brown, Ratna Fadillah, Yusran Nurdin, Iona Soulsby and Rio Ahmad. Download the full paper and find it and many more useful research resources – all available copy-left – in our resources section.

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