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ARTICLE
Year : 2015  |  Volume : 13  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 154-165

Whose Threat Counts? Conservation Narratives in the Wakatobi National Park, Indonesia


1 The Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
2 School of Earth and Environment and The Oceans Institute, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia

Correspondence Address:
Franciska von Heland
The Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm
Sweden
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.164194

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Date of Web Publication2-Sep-2015
 

   Abstract 

The ongoing global decline of coral reefs and their associated fisheries highlights issues of governance, including contrasting interpretations of the marine environment, the drivers and agents of environmental degradation, and the appropriate actions to address these. It is therefore essential to understand the social practices of value articulation through which marine ecosystems and resources are assigned meaning and recognition. In this regard, narratives identifying 'which aspects of the environment should be made resilient', 'to what threats', and 'through which solutions' are particularly important. Such narratives may fundamentally alter marine governance by defining which knowledge counts, steering conservation activities toward certain goals, and assigning people with new identities. We explore these issues in the context of a marine national park in eastern Indonesia, where the key narratives revolve around values associated with high coral reef biodiversity. International and domestic conservation-oriented organisations promote a narrative describing the park as a success story exemplifying co-management and equality in decision-making. Furthermore, a narrative emphasising illegal fishing by outsiders creates an adversarial scenario that favours certain more powerful institutions and subsumes competing narratives emanating from disadvantaged ethnic minorities. We suggest that these narratives reflect critical issues of governance, including resource allocation, management practices, stakeholder relations, and influence conservation outcomes by favouring the protection of some species, ecosystems, and sites over others.

Keywords: marine conservation, governance, marine national park, narratives, value articulation, framing, illegal fishing, Coral Triangle Initiative, Indonesia


How to cite this article:
von Heland F, Clifton J. Whose Threat Counts? Conservation Narratives in the Wakatobi National Park, Indonesia. Conservat Soc 2015;13:154-65

How to cite this URL:
von Heland F, Clifton J. Whose Threat Counts? Conservation Narratives in the Wakatobi National Park, Indonesia. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2015 [cited 2019 Oct 22];13:154-65. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2015/13/2/154/164194


   Introduction Top


Marine ecosystems the world over are under stress as a result of environmentally damaging activities in coastal zones and on the high seas. Marine pollution, which predominantly has terrestrial sources, is expected to increase, particularly in SouthEast Asia which is experiencing high population growth and rapid coastal development (Nellemann et al. 2008). Unsustainable fishing is causing the degradation of fish habitats and is threatening the productivity of marine ecosystems (Berkes et al. 2006). The threats are particularly acute in SouthEast Asia, where nearly 95% of all coral reefs are under increasing fishing pressure (Burke et al. 2011). Climate change will impact fisheries in general, and ecosystems like coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses, and lead to further reduction in the availability of important ecosystem services (Hoegh-Guldberg et al. 2009). Interventions to cope with these threats and the decreasing resilience of marine ecosystems raise important issues of value articulation. Several pertinent questions emerge (Carpenter 2001; Lebel et al. 2006; Ernstson 2013)-Who defines what aspects of the marine environment that should be made resilient? To what threats? What management approaches should be used? For whom is resilience to be managed? For what purposes? Addressing these questions brings any governance endeavour into the context of framing and value articulation.

However, there is no absolute or objective representation of an ecosystem (Sörlin 1999; Ernstson and Sörlin 2009; Leach et al. 2010). For a particular ecosystem to be the focus of policy and become a target for regulation, its value needs to be established. Drawing on Ernstson and Sörlin (2009), we argue that narratives-accounts defining a set of characteristics that makes certain environments what they are, including the ways problems are defined, boundaries designated and solutions prescribed-are essential in establishing value. Yet, individuals and organisations will use different narratives to make sense of the same ecosystem(s). As emphasised by Castree (2001: 12), narratives "do not reveal or hide the truths" of ecosystems "but, rather, create their own truths" (italics in original). This underscores the messy politics of representation, articulation, and essentialism that surround human-environment interactions, including environmental policy making (Rutherford 2007). The status of a particular ecosystem may therefore be conceived of as the result of specific actors' work to construct narratives wherein specific areas and species are assigned recognition and protective value, as well as the interaction between actors, networks, and interests (Adams 2004; Ernstson 2011; Rosen and Olsson 2013).

It is, therefore, apparent that an examination of the processes through which narratives are constructed is central to understanding why policies on the environment assume a particular shape (Gasper and Apthorpe 1996; IDS 2006b; Lockwood 2011). The ability to exercise control over representations of the environment and mobilise recognition for certain narratives is crucial if one is to have an impact on policy processes (Latour 1996; Mosse 2004). Mosse (2004) argues that success in any development endeavour is intimately linked to the stabilisation of a particular narrative. Stabilisation requires persuasive translation of the narrative by skilful brokers who can make explicit linkages between the narrative and other stakeholders' institutional agendas so that these can co-operate and project a particular interpretation (Callon 1986). This means that ecosystems need to be constructed and communicated in such a way that they become targets for public support and regulation (Bäckstrand 2004).

Yet, narratives outlining what is wrong and how it must be put right invariably simplify the complex dynamics inherent in both ecosystems and social systems (IDS 2006a). A particularly influential and persistent narrative that has underpinned much environmental policy in the developing world builds on the perceived link between poverty and environmental degradation (IDS 2006a). According to Cornwall and Fujita (2007), this narrative has often been used to motivate a series of colonial and post-colonial state policies seeking to 'protect' the environment from the poor. This simplistic approach often appeals to decision makers for its assertion of certainty and control (Carr et al. 2009), but undermines the capacity of management to cope with traits such as emergent system behaviour, nonlinearity, unpredictability, and multiple-agency situations (Folke 2006), all of which characterise real world interactions in social-ecological systems. In conveying a particular interpretation of a problem, narratives may also shift or sustain power relations in ways that trigger social dislocation and undermine efforts to enhance social equity (Cornwall and Fujita 2007). This is certainly owing to the fact that only some voices are allowed to resonate through a narrative, and some groups may not have the opportunity to participate in value articulation and distribution of narratives (Ernstson and Sörlin 2009; Reed et al. 2009; Leach et al. 2010). With that said, narratives also constrain the manoeuvring space of their creators, in the sense that they become disciplined by their own narratives (Mosse 2004). Therefore, as emphasised by Brock et al. (2001), narratives may reveal the ways in which power and knowledge frame management.

Building on theories of value articulation (Sörlin 1999; Castree 2001; Leach et al. 2010), we analyse conservation narratives in the Wakatobi National Park (WNP) in Indonesia to illustrate how narratives affect the broader endeavour of governing coastal and marine resources. More specifically, we explore narratives of central actors operating in the WNP to illustrate how narratives are entwined with, and influence, critical governance aspects such as resource allocation, day-to-day management actions (e.g., surveillance and patrolling), stakeholder relations (including power dynamics), and long-term ecological monitoring. The WNP is centrally located within the Coral Triangle, a region with exceptional marine biodiversity (Veron et al. 2009), and is Indonesia's third largest marine protected area (MPA). Recently, the WNP has become a priority site for global conservation efforts following the adoption of the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) (Clifton 2013), which is an international attempt at coral reef conservation among countries in the Coral Triangle, international conservation NGOs, and international donors.


   Materials and Methods Top


The study is based on empirical data generated through text analysis (Krippendorff and Bock 2008), qualitative interviewing (Kvale and Brinkmann 2009), and participant observation (Bernard 2006) over two periods of two months each in 2010 and 2012. In total, 16 interviews were conducted with people living and/or working in Wakatobi, representing the district government, NGOs, researchers, and tourism operators (Appendix 1). We will refer to these groups as central actors of current conservation efforts in the WNP. The identification of interviewees was based on our personal knowledge of the field site. Informal discussions with people from the above four groups have also informed the analysis. We also used websites, brochures, and booklets produced by these groups to inform the analysis. Interviews were conducted in English and designed to elicit information on three areas: 1) actors' perceptions of the WNP and its constituent marine ecosystems; 2) their perceptions of threats to these ecosystems; and 3) their preferences with respect to management interventions. All interviews were transcribed. Interviewees are kept anonymous, and the quotations that appear in the result section are from the transcripts. Other quotations are from the websites of central actors.



The data analysis was done in two stages. In the first stage, we identified the actors' narratives with respect to the three thematic areas covered in the interviews. These narratives were supported by material in brochures, mission statements, annual reports, and press releases. We also used scientific publications and research reports to account for narratives produced by researchers working in the WNP. [Table 1] summarises the actors' different narratives. In the second stage, we analysed links between narratives, management practices, and stakeholder relations. There were very few instances of conflicting narratives within groups, with the exception of NGOs where accounts of local staff were occasionally different from those of staff working at higher organisational levels. These discrepancies are discussed where relevant in the paper.

The study site: Wakatobi National Park

The WNP ([Figure 1]) is located in SouthEast Sulawesi in eastern Indonesia, and is centrally located within the Coral Triangle, a region with exceptional marine biodiversity (Veron et al. 2009). The WNP, with an area of 13,900 sq. km, is Indonesia's third largest marine protected area (MPA). The WNP encompasses the four major islands of Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko, as well as sixteen smaller uninhabited islands and atolls (Clifton 2003).

It was designated a national park in 1996, and is an IUCN Category II multiple-use protected area (Green et al. 2009). The zonation plan which was revised in 2007 defines no-take zones, including dive sites where fishing is not allowed, and areas open to fishing only by local residents and licensed fishermen. The Wakatobi National Park Authority (hereafter referred to as the Marine Park Authority) is situated within the Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation which is in turn a branch of the Ministry of Forestry based in Jakarta. The Marine Park Authority has three sub-offices within the WNP, and operates three types of patrolling: 1) regular patrolling, 2) incidental patrolling upon alarms of illegal activity, and 3) collaborative patrolling between the Marine Park Authority, district government, and NGOs. Regular patrolling is scheduled to take place 10 days a month. Blast fishing and cyanide poisoning are forbidden everywhere in the park in accordance with national law.

Two distinct ethnic groups are present in the park. The majority Butonese are of local origin and represent around 95% of the population (Clifton et al. 2010). The minority Bajau group are found dispersed throughout eastern Indonesia and are often misleadingly labelled 'sea nomads' on account of their historic use of houseboats and contemporary maritime lifestyle (Clifton and Majors 2012). In contrast to people of Butonese origin, the Bajau depend almost exclusively on marine resources for food, fuel, and building materials (Cullen 2007).

Dive tourism in the Wakatobi region was initiated by an overseas entrepreneur following a visit in 1994 (Mäder 2012). Negotiations with the district government and surrounding communities were initiated, contracts signed, and land leased to the dive operator. At the time, the four islands were under the authority of the district government of Buton and simply referred to as the Tukang Besi. In naming the dive resort, the Swiss owner paired the first two letters of each island's name (Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko) into an acronym, namely, Wakatobi. When the four islands became a single new government district in 2003, the new government announced its official name change to Wakatobi.

In the mid 1990s, the British company Operation Wallacea established a small research ecotourism operation focussing on community-based marine conservation work in Hoga Island, a sparsely populated island outside Kaledupa (Clifton 2004). In 1998, Operation Wallacea collaborated with a UK university to implement a long term scientific research programme around the island, termed the Hoga Research Centre, focussing on coral reef dynamics, coral reef diversity, fisheries ecology, and reef-based economics (Operation Wallacea 2012).

Around the same time, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) set out on a marine expedition to create a Conservation  Atlas More Details of SouthEast Sulawesi. The expedition not only led to the identification of the Tukang Besi as a priority site for marine conservation, but also contributed towards the establishment of the WNP in 1996. To support the newly created marine park, WWF set up a field office in Tomia, which was subsequently relocated to Wangi-Wangi when the latter became the administrative centre of the newly created Wakatobi district in 2003. Today, the office is jointly managed with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and over the years it has assisted the Marine Park Authority in improving the monitoring and surveillance of the national park and in conducting scientific surveys of the park's resources (Wijonarno 2012). Moreover, the two NGOs contributed significantly towards research, resulting in the revised zonation of the park which was approved in 2007.


   Results: Conservation Narratives in the Wakatobi National Park Top


Unparalleled biodiversity

Prior to the 1990s, the Wakatobi region was almost unknown to foreign visitors and researchers. Today, marine scientists, conservationists, policy makers, and scuba divers value Wakatobi for its crystal clear water, stunning underwater scenery, and pristine coral reefs. These images are articulated and distributed to the outside world through speech, text, photography, and film. One actor that has been particularly successful in articulating the plethora of marine life in WNP is the Wakatobi Dive Resort, as illustrated in the following quote:

Nowhere else do you have such an ease of access to miles and miles of pristine reefs with diverse topography, life and highlights. In other locations you collect the good dive sites together over large areas with long and arduous boat journeys in between and might not even get close to what Wakatobi offers out there right at the doorstep… [In] Wakatobi [you] will have the greatest opportunity to see the greatest variety and diversity of marine life (WDR 2012a).

The many dive sites that the WNP has to offer are also contrasted to the various dive sites in SouthEast Asia that are now deteriorating (WDR 2012c). In identifying tourism as an important business opportunity to boost social and economic development, the district government has increasingly adopted the rhetoric of the tourist operator to promote the district as a paradise for overseas divers and naturalists (Interview 4, 8, 11). Reefs are also valued for providing habitats for rare marine biota, e.g., endangered species of sea turtles, giant clams, sharks, and dolphins. In a joint programme between WWF and TNC, the protection of sea turtles is a priority objective (TNC 2012; WWF 2012). Besides a focus on particular species, both NGOs define the WNP as a priority site for coral reef conservation, including a crucial site for the establishment of an operational MPA network in the Coral Triangle (Green et al. 2012). Conservation activities in the WNP are thus part of a much broader, regional conservation strategy reflecting the NGOs involvement in the Coral Triangle Initiative (Fernandes et al. 2012)- an international agreement between Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste-to address impacts of overfishing, destructive fishing, and climate change. WWF and TNC, together with Conservation International, are the main implementers of the initiative, which is funded by donors such as the United States Agency for International Development and the Asian Development Bank (Rosen and Olsson 2013).

Unlike many other tropical reef areas across the Coral Triangle, the WNP has a long history of scientific research activity (Clifton 2004). Situated in the heart of the WNP is the Hoga Research Centre, which has an established record of publishing in international academic journals. Ecological data generated at the Hoga Research Centre has been particularly important to confirm the WNP's status as a biodiversity hotspot and to mobilise support for conservation (Galley and Clifton 2003). A major ecological assessment of the park's marine resources has also been conducted by WWF, in which a total of 396 species of hermatypic scleractinian corals and 590 species of fish from 52 families were officially recorded (McMellor and Smith 2010).

A national park beyond the ordinary

The actors analysed in this study rely on the abundance of marine life to create added value for their organisations. Yet, in many regards value creation and articulation is intimately linked to the physical presence of the national park. As already emphasised, the growth of marine-based tourism in the WNP is central to the economic growth strategy of the district government (Interview 4, 8, 9, 11). In this regard, collaboration with WWF/TNC is crucial they invested approximately USD 4 million in park management between 2002 and 2012 (Wijonarno 2012). As stated by a government official, collaboration with the NGOs "puts the government in a good position to attract attention and funding from other donors" (Interview 4). Meanwhile, the two NGOs have marketed the WNP as a 'prototype' for the establishment of MPA networks throughout the Coral Triangle (Wijonarno 2012: 5). In doing so, buzzwords such as co-management, community consultation, and community participation are used to distinguish the area from other marine reserves. In TNC's 2009 annual report, readers are presented with a narrative about fishermen whose livelihoods faced serious threats from overfishing and destructive fishing, but after deciding to cooperate with the Marine Park Authority and WWF/TNC now see more fish than in many years (TNC 2009). The fisherman figuring in the narrative explains that "fishermen and their wives are now much happier since they don't have to worry about having food on their plates" (TNC 2009: 15). The Wakatobi Dive Resort supports this narrative stating that "the entire Wakatobi region has been turned into a sustainable protected marine park, [and that] surrounding communities have 'bought in' to the conservation plan" (WDR 2012a).

Conservation under threat, but what threats?

While the Wakatobi Dive Resort states that the WNP has the most pristine reefs on the planet, it perceives local fishing activity and destructive fishing (e.g., dynamite fishing, cyanide poisoning and muro-ami netting) as major threats to marine biodiversity, stating that "destructive fishing methods are the economic equivalent of slaughtering the goose that lays golden eggs" (WDR 2012c). The district government supports the perception that the coral reefs thrive, referring to the Marine Park Authority's coral reef monitoring in 2011 which showed an increase in coral cover in outer reefs in no-take areas (Interview 7). It also states that the size of the total fish catch remains constant, but that carnivorous fish species have decreased in all habitat types and across both use zones and protected zones (Interview 7). However, local fishermen are not generally identified as being responsible for their decline or generally not associated with the use of destructive fishing methods. On the contrary, the district government points to illegal fishing by people from elsewhere as the main threat to coastal and marine resources (Interview 4, 7, 8, 11). The local WWF/TNC office shares the view that the main conservation threat comes from the outside in the form of illegal fishing (Interview 2, 13, 16). These outside fishermen, whose vessels and fishing capacities are described as far bigger than locals, are thought of as coming from Kendari, Makassar, and Java. Around 80% of the total catch is believed to be caught by these 'outside' fishermen, the majority of who fish illegally without a license from the district government (Interview 16). The following quote illustrates the NGOs' view on threats:

The problem comes from outsiders who want to take the resources. Even if local fishermen agree to protect the area we cannot ensure that people from the outside do not enter the park. Let local fishermen handle themselves, we cannot catch them just because they are fishing on protected areas. We should prioritise to eliminate fishing by outsiders (Interview 16).

At the international level, the two NGOs often point to international live reef fish trade, linked to cyanide fishing by local communities, as being the main driver behind over exploitation in the Coral Triangle (Tsamenyi and Palma 2012). In a movie meant to promote environmental awareness about marine problems in the Coral Triangle, photojournalist James Morgan at WWF International portrays cyanide fishing by the Bajau as a significant conservation threat (Morgan 2011). While it does not deal specifically with the WNP, it describes many of Sulawesi's Bajau communities as making homemade explosives from grinding up match heads and combining them with sand and fertiliser to bomb reefs and increase their catches. Destructive fishing is depicted as a coping strategy of fishermen to feed their families when fish stocks decline and food webs alter due to climate change (Morgan 2012). In combination, dynamite and cyanide fishing are said to destroy the world's epicentre of coral diversity at a rate that is verging on irreversible (Morgan 2012).

Scientific observations recorded by researchers at the Hoga Research Centre confirm that corals are thriving (Interview 6). However, contrary to the state of the corals, researchers feel that fish stocks are declining (Exton 2010); in particular, stocks, size, and distribution of pelagic fish. Researchers claim that the abundance and diversity of fish has decreased significantly over the last few years (Exton 2010, McMellor and Smith 2010). Researchers also emphasise that little is known about the level of functional redundancy on the reefs, including the level of fishing pressure at which the reefs may flip into an alternative stable state (Scheffer et al. 2001). Consequently, the fact that corals are in good condition, while the fish are not, may suggest that it is only a matter of time before there is not enough fish to keep the algae in check (Interview 6, 15). However, contrary to the view held by NGOs, many researchers argue that the majority of reef fish is being sold and consumed within the park, while more valuable species like grouper and tuna are often exported to fish markets in Kendari or Makassar, and that vessels from outside the WNP mostly operate during periods when the sea is calm (Interview 6). While rumours of Chinese vessels shipping loads of live reef fish out from the park are often heard by employees at the Hoga Research Centre, there have never been any first-hand observations of such incidents at the Hoga Research Centre (although it must be remembered that this is staffed for approximately 4-5 months each year). Researchers also voiced two main areas of concern regarding fisheries management and conservation in the WNP. Firstly, that there are signs that dynamite fishing among local fishermen has reappeared after several years:

In the last three weeks we have been underwater for 12 hours. In those 12 hours we heard 4 dynamite blasts go off. Having things like blast fishing occurring in a national park is pretty strong evidence to suggest that the local fishing communities are not concerned by any patrols or rangers or being caught (Interview 6).

Secondly, there is concern that the management plan only exists on paper, as fishing by outsiders and local fishermen occurs everywhere in the park irrespective of zonation (Interview 6, 10, 15). Likewise, a representative of a local fisheries NGO described the management of the WNP as a failure, with collaborative efforts and patrols being rare and insufficient (Interview 14). The Marine Park Authority has also been accused of using intimidating practices, being corrupt, and expressing anti-Bajau attitudes (Clifton 2003). The local fisheries organisation further identified territorial takeover by foreign tourism operators as a major threat to livelihood security, because of which the above interviewee anticipated increasing levels of conflict between different user groups (Interview 14).

Managing the threats

To encourage communities to acknowledge the fragility of marine resources and take an active role in protecting these, the founder of the Wakatobi Dive Resort has developed the 'Collaborative Reef Conservation Program' (WDR 2012b). The program is based on annual payments and the distribution of resort-generated electrical power to local villagers in exchange for their compliance with a total fishing ban on reefs near the resort and around the island (outsiders fish on outer reefs and in pelagic areas). Park rangers are also supplied with fuel to assist in patrolling (Clifton 2013). Since its inception in 2001, the programme has expanded to comprise over 20 km of reefs. After years of continuous efforts to build understanding and trust, the programme has halted illegal fishing, reef walking, and other activities considered detrimental to coral reefs, thereby improving the quality of surrounding reefs and seagrass beds (WDR 2012b). Similarly, in 2001, the Hoga MPA was designated to protect from fishing the fringing reefs adjacent to the Hoga Research Centre (Unsworth et al. 2010). This designation also offered a unique opportunity for researchers to carry out coral reef research.

The district government, on the other hand, is currently taking measures to construct a new detention centre and install a coastal radar and tag system to combat illegal activity (Interview 4, 7, 8). In the words of a district government official:

Our sea is very large, so it is very difficult to deter illegal fishing. […] The radar will help us to detect illegal fishing because local boats will have tags. After identifying the position of illegal fishermen we can send out our water jet [hydrofoil] with a gun (Interview 4).

To get the radar operational, as indicated by the above quote, local fishermen and fishermen with a license will be required to tag their boats so that the radar can distinguish between legal and illegal fishermen. However, according to a local NGO official, rangers often "see between their fingers" when encountered with illegal activity (Interview 2). Other local NGO officials report that patrolling is no longer effective as the boats now used are very small compared to the big WWF boat that was previously used. In their view, the situation has deteriorated since 2011, when WWF/TNC stopped being involved in regular patrolling, and continued only occasional collaborative patrolling and the yearly coral reef monitoring due to decreased budget allocations (Interview 2) and lack of petrol (Interview 13). Awareness building activities and MPA management training for government officials and communities are now a central activity (Interview 13, 16) running parallel to turtle conservation activities, which feature heavily in the revised management plan (Ministry of Forestry 2007).

Another effort to raise awareness about marine degradation is illustrated by the district government's and WWF's co-production of The mirror never lies-a love story filmed in one of Wakatobi's Bajau villages-that communicates a conservation message (Interview 3, 8, 12). Besides serving an educational purpose, the movie has been launched internationally to raise funds for marine conservation. Some reviewers have described that the movie often "comes perilously close to becoming an ethnographic documentary" about the maritime lifestyle of the Bajau (Film Business Asia 2012), but more often it has been described in glowing terms, as illustrated by the following quote:

Even cosmopolitan urbanites will be hard-pressed not to fall for this exotic gem. Glossily shot in pristine marine locations, every frame is a feast for the eyes. […] This film will be remembered for the breathtaking underwater cinematography that shows the sea teeming with wonders like a parallel universe (Hollywood Reporter 2011).

In portraying the Bajau as an icon of a disappearing lifestyle, which stands in sharp contrast to that of the WNP's ethnic majority, who holds the political power, the movie contributes to a narrative which perpetuates the perception of the Bajau as uneducated, poor, and exotic rather than a potential ally in marine governance.


   Discussion Top


All actors interviewed in the study have a common narrative regarding the exceptional biological value of Wakatobi founded on the coral reef ecology. Several interviewees describe the management of the WNP as a success story that enjoys support by local fishermen (with the exception of researchers who claim that local fishermen fish everywhere in the park, including in no-take zones). In parallel, all actors present a narrative in which the park is under threat from destructive fishing, which could destabilise the entire coral reef ecosystem. Yet, narratives about perpetrators vary among the actors, and whether and what marine resources are declining as a result of fishing is a matter of ambiguity. The most obvious difference concerns the impacts on marine ecosystems of fishermen from outside the park who come to the WNP to fish versus that of fishermen from within the park and among different local groups. Consequently, preferences about appropriate management actions vary-ranging from improved surveillance, reef leasing, to MPA management training. The results also show that management activities often link to the district government's economic growth policy to develop the tourism sector. Despite the consensual belief in the importance of protecting the park's unique biodiversity, this shared narrative fails to bring together critical stakeholders (e.g., fishermen, government, NGOs, researchers, and tourist operators). From this it follows that governance is fragmented and sometimes poorly adapted to local institutions and marine system dynamics. In the next section, we discuss how these narratives steer management towards certain means and goals. Due to space limitations we cannot give a full account of these ways, but have chosen one thematic area-illegal fishing-to demonstrate how narratives impact the governance of the WNP.

Illegal fishing by outsiders

While there is little doubt that illegal activity occurs within the park, there is no coherent picture of illegality. On the one hand, illegal fishing is articulated as a matter of blast and cyanide fishing. On the other hand, illegal fishing is associated with 'outsiders' from elsewhere in Indonesia or beyond. This means that 'illegal' can be based on the type of fishing activity or on the origin of fisher. Yet, these narratives are often being conflated so that anyone from 'outside' is an illegal fisher (i.e., is likely to be fishing using illegal techniques simply because they are an 'outsider'), but fishermen from elsewhere can be practising legal or illegal fishing (the latter including trawling), and can be either subsistence or commercial fishermen.

TNC and WWF have long emphasised the significance of illegal fishing activity and the need for improved enforcement in the WNP (WWF/TNC 2003), thereby creating an active role for themselves in park management. Their work can be seen as an example of successful translation and increasing stabilisation of a narrative revolving around illegal fishing by people from outside the park (Latour 1996; Mosse 2004). As the district government has adopted the same narrative, it has become a powerful frame through which marine resource dilemmas are often conveyed to the public, meaning that this narrative has official sanction. Yet, as the district government depends on NGO support for marine governance, its ability to communicate an alternative narrative may be questioned.

Still, the narrative is paradoxical in that Indonesian fishermen coming in from elsewhere are not automatically illegal. The Indonesian constitution allows small-scale fishermen to freely fish anywhere in national waters (Gunawan and Visser 2012). This means that both traditional use and general use zones within the WNP are 'de jure' areas that local fishermen as well as outsiders can access, as long as they use artisanal gear and boats (Gunawan and Visser 2012). Yet, illegal activity occurs when the park zones are not observed or when banned fishing practices are undertaken (e.g., dynamite or cyanide). Seeking to 'eliminate' fishing by outsiders is highly unlikely as this would contravene national legislation, and also because fishing permits are a source of district government revenue (Gunawan and Visser 2012), which may become increasingly important due to reduced budget allocations from the central government (Duncan 2007). Yet, the strong visual image of the 'non-Wakatobi illegal fisher' may help both partners to mobilise support from their respective constituents.

We argue that this narrative forges a strong 'us versus them' polarity between people within and outside the park. It therefore follows that any regulation of fishing practices should concentrate on regulating the activity of 'outsiders' as they are the ones who deplete the marine environment. This kind of simplicity may appeal to decision makers and donors for providing a culprit and a target for regulation (IDS 2006b). However, it undermines efforts to account for system dynamics and multiple agencies. For example, fisheries in the WNP involve combinations of commercial, subsistence, and recreational fishermen, using a variety of gears, following a strongly seasonal pattern of fishing activity, and targeting multiple and different species (Unsworth et al. 2010). Fabinyi (2012) has described similar attitudes in the Philippines towards illegal fishing and the attribution of blame for marine problems on outsiders. Fabinyi (2012) argues that this may absolve local residents of responsibility for the decline of fish stocks or reef degradation. We would like to elaborate on Fabinyi's (2012) reasoning by making the argument that this narrative, to some extent, may also absolve the district government of responsibility, since it is not 'their' fishermen that are causing the problem. Merely focussing on the fishing efforts of people from elsewhere may hinder critical reflection on endogenous drivers of marine decline, impede efforts to protect ecological processes such as replenishment of fish stocks, and to ensure the wellbeing of local people. This is problematic considering that fisheries in Wakatobi are thought to be exploited above the maximum sustainable yield and that a high proportion of the catch comprises juveniles (Exton 2010).

Illegal fishing by ethnic minorities

Parallel to the above narrative runs another narrative emphasising destructive fishing using dynamite and cyanide by the Bajau. The Bajau are accorded a low social status across Indonesia and often categorised as 'outsiders', due to low levels of formal education, a strongly subsistence-based economy, distinct religious beliefs, and other indicators of poverty, (Acciaioli 2001; Gaynor 2010). The Bajau, therefore, become a common target for enforcement agencies and readily fall into the 'usual suspect' category in the context of illegal resource usage (Kortschak 2010; Clifton and Majors 2012). The extent to which Bajau communities in the WNP are involved in the live reef fish trade (which is intimately linked to the use of cyanide) needs to be further investigated. Research indicates that most Bajau are subsistence-oriented fishers who fish to meet basic food security needs (Clifton and Majors 2012). By explaining that the Bajau turn to destructive practices because fish stocks decline, the narrative fails to account for the underlying cultural logic of these practices. Regardless of the size of fish stocks, blast fishing is linked to catch sharing, which plays an important socio-cultural role within Bajau community and for household relations in particular (Clifton and Majors 2012). Moreover, fishing success is not perceived as the outcome of fish abundance, fishing technology, or individual skills and knowledge, but is an outcome of the fishermen's relationships with sea spirits (Clifton and Majors 2012). In a similar vein, Fabinyi (2012) highlights the importance of cultural aspects, such as the desire to obtain quick profits and demonstrate individual masculinity as being drivers behind male fishermen's involvement in blast fishing. We would also contend that destructive fishing by the relatively small Wakatobi Bajau population is likely to be localised, and is not proven to be of significance with respect to fish stocks in the park as a whole.

Whilst the threat posed by the Bajau, or trade in live reef fish trade, is often disseminated at a general level, there are few instances where conservation actors specifically exemplify the problem actually occurring. Turning the lens towards illegal activity by the dominant ethnic group, whether in terms of destructive fishing or fishing in no-take zones would undermine the NGOs' efforts to promote Wakatobi as a model for successful co-management for all other MPAs in the Coral Triangle (Wijonarno 2012). In other words, this would destabilise narratives about community participation and co-management, including the ecological gains of collaborative efforts (e.g., more fish on fishermen's plates). Moreover, as NGOs are dependant on continuing support from members and donors, they constantly have to demonstrate the positive outcomes of their work. This highlights that the success of any conservation initiative depends, in part, on good marketing and the convergence of particular stakeholders' conservation agendas and self-promotional goals (Mosse 2004).

Using an indigenous ethnic narrative to convey a conservation message-as exemplified in The mirror never lies or in other media campaigns-may furthermore downplay illegal activity by people of the dominant ethnic group and stigmatise the less powerful ethnic group. It may also help people of the dominant ethnic group to deflect blame from their own activities and further reinforce their dominance. For instance, people of Butonese origin who do not fish themselves often buy their fish from Bajau communities (Pilgrim et al. 2007). To put the blame for bomb fishing on poorer communities and the weakest ethnic group seems to be a recurring pattern across the Indonesian archipelago (Kortschak 2010; Sala et al. 2011). Not emphasising the link between all citizens' resource use, consumption patterns, and future wellbeing, will only lead to a simplistic understanding of complex ecosystem dynamics and management actions needed to meet environmental goals. This approach may actually have a detrimental effect on efforts to empower the Bajau, as it underscores how the Bajau community is unable to distribute its own narratives, relying instead on other conservation groups to do this on their behalf (c.f. Li 1999; Acciaioli 2001; Cornwall and Fujita 2007; Ernstson and Sörlin 2009).

Narratives that can bridge ethnic divides are therefore crucial in mobilising collective action around marine conservation. Artefacts like The mirror never lies, if sensitised to the complexities of the social realm, may play an important role in articulating an alternative narrative. Likewise, it is important to acknowledge that Bajau communities can contribute valuable ecological knowledge to management of marine resources, given their unique experience and personal affiliation with the marine environment (Siry 2011; Clifton 2014). A researcher at the Hoga Research Centre opined that this could give the Bajau a sense of empowerment and perhaps establish incentives for sustainable resource use (Interview 6). If not abated, political discrimination, social exclusion, and inequity will most likely accelerate the decline of marine ecosystems and resources.

Surveillance of perpetrators

The district government has invested in a new coastal radar system to improve its capacity to deal with the exogenous conservation threat represented by illegal fishing. With the help of the new surveillance system the capacity of responsible authorities to identify vessels fishing illegally and take these into custody is expected to increase. Arguments that the radar will decrease the cost of patrolling and make patrolling more target-oriented are used to justify government action. This can be contrasted with the view held by local WWF/TNC officers and researchers, that park rangers need to physically demonstrate their presence in the park on a regular basis to improve compliance (which contradicts current NGO practices).

According to the district government, illegal fishing takes place on outer reefs. The district government also asserts that these same reefs have the highest coral cover in no-take areas and harbour the highest number of carnivorous fish species. This leads to questions about the proportion of outsiders' fishing efforts and techniques, including fishing sites that are regularly visited and species that are landed. There has long been a chronic shortage of resources for patrolling, and rangers' boats are frequently without fuel. Resources for essential maintenance work and patrolling therefore need to be secured to make the radar system operational and effective. Even assuming such resources can be secured, enforcement activities will be 'toothless' if rangers fail to apprehend offenders (Elliott et al. 2010), a problem accounted for by several interviewees. It does not address important issues relating to mismanagement, corruption, and intimidating practices among government authorities (Clifton 2004), which are all aspects with profound implications on compliance and governance. This demonstrates that the 'how-to-put-things-right' component of the government's illegal fishing narrative may have profound implications on budget allocation, public perceptions, stakeholder relations, and ecological processes.

Protection through reef leasing

To fend off fishing (not just illegal fishing) in the waters surrounding the Wakatobi Dive Resort and uphold the image of the WNP as the epicentre of marine biodiversity, the resort has created its own reef conservation programme. The programme serves to 'protect' the environment (Cornwall and Fujita 2007)-epitomised by important dive sites-against the activities of local fishermen. Private conservation initiatives resulting in the creation of no-take zones may cause anger among fishermen for giving rise to policy orientations which are not publicly agreed upon but backed by private, powerful interests. For example, reef leasing and the designation of no-take zones, some of which predate the national park, has enabled the dive resort to build a significant power base with newly empowered sub-district tiers of government. As Ernstson (2012) contends, boundary making of this type can create increasingly stabilised relations between conservation actors and stakeholder that become difficult to undo.

Clifton (2004) emphasises that tourism operators relying on the marine environment will inevitably seek to ensure that the quality and representation of surrounding environmental assets is maintained to secure future income. This could potentially prevent tourism operators from disseminating evidence of deterioration in the marine environment. Either way, this shows that resourceful private actors may become very influential in negotiating new human-environment relations (Clifton 2004). For example, the funds supplied by the dive operator to the Marine Park Authority may clearly put park rangers under pressure to patrol and enforce park regulations near dive sites (Clifton 2004).

This problematises the question of who is actually in control of the management of these marine resources, and the ecological outcomes that result from these management interventions. Moreover, increasing levels of conflict may arise as the district government is under pressure to increase tax revenues through tourism, potentially decreasing its willingness to critically examine and regulate tourism. The rate of tourism development is another concern. The district government of Wakatobi reported 10,000 foreign and domestic visitors in 2010 (Embassy of Indonesia 2010). With rapidly increasing number of visitors, tourism could soon become a larger threat to the marine environment than illegal fishing, since basic waste management facilities such as septic tanks are very limited. There is, therefore, a distinct and influential narrative reflecting the interests and influence of the nascent tourism sector in Wakatobi. This has a direct impact on policy making, which in turn affects an increasing number of fishermen living within the park that are dependent on marine resources.

MPA management training

An interesting finding of this study is that narratives are reflective of the complexity of local institutions and partnerships, and of stakeholders' status and influence. This illustrates the importance of understanding local narratives in order to comprehend how large scale policy, such as the CTI, translates into small scale practices, and its implications for local stakeholders as well as for environmental conservation. For example, while the local WWF/TNC office identifies illegal fishing by outsiders as being the most pressing conservation threat, most conservation activities revolve around MPA management training for local fishermen and district officials.

MPA management training courses have certainly played a key role in capacity building and in raising awareness about the national park, but hardly play any role in preventing outsiders from violating park regulations. The international agenda of TNC and WWF to establish functional MPA networks in the Coral Triangle region (CTI Secretariat 2009; Fernandes et al. 2012) may explain the discrepancy between the threats emphasised and the current conservation practices. A central principle of the CTI is the belief that conservation can be replicated across the region through collaborative learning. Obviously, case studies that demonstrate methods and best practices for designing and implementing MPA networks are key to further this objective (IUCN-WCPA 2008). Our findings suggest that the outcomes of such practices will depend upon the perspectives and power of local groups as reflected in their narratives, and that 'best practices' may be inherently difficult to institutionalise because of such complexities (Büscher and Dressler 2013). Drawing on Mosse (2004), one may argue that the NGOs become disciplined by their own conservation narrative, more specifically the narrative prevalent at higher institutional levels with considerable influence over budget allocations and the practices of field offices. It also shows that competing or contrasting narratives from lower organisational levels may be subsumed or disregarded if they do not resonate with higher level narratives. The mismatch between threats emphasised and current conservation activities also raises questions about the credibility of the knowledge brought into marine resource management.

The chief focus of NGOs on coral reef conservation may actually have a negative impact on ecosystem resilience, since seagrass meadows are the preferred fishing grounds for the majority of fishermen in Wakatobi (Cullen 2007; Unsworth et al. 2010). Seagrass meadows are not targeted under the current zonation plan, but these habitats act as important fish nurseries, meaning that unsustainable fishing in seagrass meadows may severely impact adjacent coral reefs due to processes of ecological connectivity (Unsworth et al. 2008). Missing out on the important links between seagrasses, coral reefs, and fisheries undermines the capacity of resource management to sustain important ecological processes and human livelihoods. Given that the NGOs and the district government promote seaweed cultivation as an alternative livelihood strategy, which may present significant threats to seagrass ecosystems (Eklöf et al. 2005), the development of narratives stressing the importance of ecological connectivity and the need to also protect seagrass meadows may improve marine resource management.


   Conclusion Top


This study suggests that narratives about ecosystems provide an entry point for researchers to make sense of how natural resource management operates, in particular its way of asserting itself as being logical and well-founded. The study also shows that narratives that can be empirically found may provide alternative and sometimes competing hypotheses about environmental degradation and possible solutions. We indicate that narratives benefit various stakeholders differently, and that actors with a low social status may become the usual suspects of environmental decline. In this case, there is a tendency to attribute blame for environmental degradation on 'outsiders'. Narratives may therefore absolve dominant groups of responsibility for resource misuse, lead to increasingly stabilised stakeholder relations, and frame policy orientations that legitimise the activities of organisations with resources to articulate their understanding of resource dilemmas.

Finally, as narratives may have very different policy and governance implications, those which attain precedence have direct effects on human wellbeing, equity, and ecosystem resilience. For example, narratives stressing the need for coral reef conservation may impact other ecosystems (e.g., seagrass beds) or neglect other critical interactions in social-ecological systems (e.g., between food security and pelagic fisheries), by steering policy making towards certain ends. Thus, identifying and exploring conservation narratives may reveal instances where knowledge is lacking, or where its credibility might be questioned. Taking these narratives into account may also reveal controversial problems inherent in governance, help in understanding how these conditions are established, and address how they could be reworked to facilitate improved management outcomes.


   Acknowledgements Top


This research was supported by Mistra through a core grant to the Stockholm Resilience Centre, a cross-faculty research centre at Stockholm University, Sweden. We are thankful to Henrik Ernstson for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.[82]

 
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    Abstract
   Introduction
    Materials and Me...
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   Acknowledgements
    Results: Conserv...
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