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FRENCH EMBASSY GRANTS 500,000 EUROS TO SUPPORT WHALE SHARK CONSERVATION AREA IN SUMBAWA

Conservation Milestone: French Embassy Funds Whale Shark Sanctuary in Sumbawa

05.07.2024
BY M. ARI ANWAR
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The establishment of a Marine Conservation Area (MCA) centered around whale shark habitats in Teluk Saleh, Sumbawa, West Nusa Tenggara, managed jointly by Conservation Indonesia (KI) and the Sumbawa Regency Government, has received substantial support from the French Embassy. A grant totaling 500,000 Euros has been allocated to enhance the management of whale shark habitats and strengthen marine ecosystems in the region. The importance of protecting whale shark habitats in Teluk Saleh has recently been recognized as a Significant Whale Shark Area by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group, particularly for its role as a feeding area and migration corridor within the Lesser Sunda Seascape.

The grant agreement was signed today at the Auditorium of the Institut Français Indonesia in Jakarta between Meizani Irmadhiany, Senior Vice President and Executive Chair of Conservation Indonesia, and Fabien Penone, French Ambassador to Indonesia, Timor Leste, and ASEAN. The ceremony was attended by Firdaus Agung, Director of Marine Conservation and Biodiversity at the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, and Lalu Gita Ariadi, Acting Governor of West Nusa Tenggara.

In his remarks, Firdaus Agung emphasized the crucial support from the French Embassy for the development of conservation areas and efforts to protect whale sharks in Indonesia, which are fully protected under Ministerial Decree KP 18/2023. As the CITES Management Authority for sharks (pisces), the MCA places significant emphasis on the conservation efforts for whale sharks, prioritizing them among the 20 marine species for conservation.

"This kick-off project meeting could serve as a pivotal moment to align perspectives and goals, ensuring comprehensive conservation efforts for whale sharks in Teluk Saleh, NTB. Furthermore, this location can be promoted as a whale shark-based conservation area and a center for whale shark conservation learning in Indonesia, adhering to the conservation norms and standards established by the MCA through technical guidelines, codes of ethics, carrying capacity, and providing economic benefits to local communities," said Firdaus.

Ambassador Fabien Penone expressed his delight in launching this project, stating, "France welcomes the establishment of marine conservation areas with Conservation Indonesia and closely collaborates with the Indonesian government. This aligns perfectly with our international commitment to protect at least 30% of the global ocean by 2030. France, with its maritime strengths, is deeply concerned about these challenges and strongly supports the establishment of marine conservation areas and ecotourism development in these regions. This is a significant outcome of the second France-Indonesia Bilateral Maritime Dialogue held in Paris last March," added Fabien.

Meizani highlighted the research conducted by KI in Labuhan Jambu Village with the Sumbawa Regency Government, which has successfully developed whale shark conservation through community empowerment and policy development. This scientific research serves as a strong foundation for sustainable ecotourism development. As a result, the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries established the Whale Shark Tourism Code of Ethics in 2022, adopted in 2023 in West Nusa Tenggara Province as a measure for managing whale sharks in Teluk Saleh by the Regional Public Service Agency (BLUD).

However, the management of whale shark ecotourism in Teluk Saleh is still considered suboptimal, according to Meizani, as most of the whale shark ecotourism activities are outside the marine conservation areas. Additionally, some existing areas lack adequate field management.

"Following the implementation of these policies, we foresee that the development efforts of ecotourism in Teluk Saleh could bring economic benefits to the surrounding communities. However, currently, management is not optimal and lacks sufficient oversight. Therefore, through this grant funding, we aim to strengthen the capacity of managers to enforce regulations, codes of ethics, and quota systems that are crucial for protecting whale shark populations and ensuring the safety of tourists," said Meizani.

With the support from the French Embassy, KI is optimistic about the government's plans to expand marine conservation areas to double their current size, making Teluk Saleh an area focused on whale shark-based marine conservation.

"Through the support from the French Embassy and the local governance structure studies conducted by KI, we hope to address challenges in capacity building and governance improvements, including community involvement, which we have identified as crucial. The implementation plan of this funding aligns with Indonesia's national policies on biodiversity management, including the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, as well as the National Action Plan (RAN) for whale shark conservation," she added.

Lalu Gita Ariadi, Acting Governor of West Nusa Tenggara, stated that the development program for MPAs based on whale sharks will be a significant step towards the NTB government's commitment to preserve marine biodiversity. "I highly appreciate the collaboration between Conservation Indonesia and the French Embassy, as well as the support from various ministries and agencies in this project. This support is not only financial but also in terms of knowledge and technology that we greatly need to make Teluk Saleh a successful example of species-based MPA management in Indonesia, particularly. This cooperation demonstrates our joint commitment to environmental conservation and enhancing community welfare," he concluded.

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