The link between mangrove ecosystem services and increased coastal urban resilience: The case of Semarang, Indonesia

Indonesia: Semarang
A local fisherman casts his net at the site of the MANGROVE project in the sub-district of Mangkang, Semarang City, Indonesia. (Photo credit: ACCCRN Program)

Ecosystem services play a crucial role in maintaining human well-being and provide a plethora of goods and services to communities around the world. As mentioned by ISET-International1 (2013), ecosystems provide the basic foundational needs such as water, air, food, as well as some more advanced needs such as coastal defense, and water absorption capacity.

Specifically, in coastal communities throughout South and Southeast Asia, ecosystems supply food, water, livelihoods and economic opportunities, function as incredible carbon sinks, provide an organic hazard barrier to tidal surges, sea level rise and natural disasters, and present ecotourism and recreational opportunities due to their aesthetic value. Healthy ecosystems services are essential to the resilience of billions of people across the region.

However, due to rapid rates of urbanization and the rapid onset of climatic changes, ecosystems are increasingly at risk in the urban sphere. As coastal ecosystems continue to be compromised due to inappropriate land use, unsustainable development, and habitat changes, the significant provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural services that they provide are disappearing. This has far-reaching consequences that will have short-term and long-term deleterious effects on coastal populations within an urban environment.

More specifically, degradation of coastal ecosystems, including mangroves, wetlands, sea grasses, coral reefs, and coastal forests, is disproportionately harming poor and marginalized urban populations, and in some cases, is a direct driver of poverty. Alternately, bolstering healthy coastal ecosystems and ecosystem services presents an optimal opportunity to build coastal urban resilience.

Semarang City, Indonesia, located on the expansive northern coastline of Central Java in the Indonesian archipelago, presents an exemplary case study of how improving ecosystem health and the services they provide can support the well-being of its coastal inhabitants.   

According to the City Risk Diagnostic for Urban Resilience in Indonesia2 (2016), Semarang City is extremely vulnerable to a number of hazards including flooding, sea level rise, coastal erosion, land subsidence, landslides, fire, strong winds, and drought. This also confirms the findings from the Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment to Climate Change in Semarang City previously conducted by ACCCRN in 2010. In the context of these natural hazards, its slum areas have grown substantially, particularly in areas along the coast. Additionally, in the city of 1.7 million, a number of these coastal inhabitants are fish pond farmers and fishers or people whose livelihoods are directly linked to and dependent upon the health of their associated coastal ecosystems. 

Environmental degradation has been pervasive in Semarang City. Since the 1990s, large expanses of mangrove forests have been cut down to make way for the highly productive fishpond industry.

To address this vulnerability, the project Enhancing Coastal Community Resilience through Strengthened Mangrove Ecosystem Services and Alternative Livelihoods (MANGROVE) is aimed at strengthening mangrove ecosystems and developing alternate livelihoods for poor and marginalized people living in four coastal sub-districts of Semarang. Funded by The Rockefeller Foundation through the ACCCRN Program, the project is implemented by BINTARI Foundation, a local NGO based in Semarang City in partnership with Semarang City Government and local universities; Semarang State University (UNNES) and Diponegoro University (UNDIP). Mercy Corps Indonesia closely assist these partnerships to ensure the process runs smoothly and each of the stakeholders receives necessary resources to achieve the objectives.

Coastal erosion, extreme weather, and sea level rise are causing decreases in fisheries productivity and more people switching jobs. The coastal communities need to put their effort into protecting their livelihoods and at the same time preserve ecosystems they depend on.

Although it finished in December 2016, the project has nevertheless made great strides in developing ecotourism-based livelihoods, establishing additional mangrove nurseries, constructing simple breakwater using local resources, and building a stakeholder platform to co-manage and conserve the coastal ecosystem. More specifically, the project has garnered capacity through community champions in ecosystem conservation and restoration, further preserving the ecosystems services provided by mangrove forests that are vital for the well-being of community members.

As recorded in the project final report3, the strengthening of the mangrove ecosystem involved planting 332,500 mangrove trees with the average survival rate of 40%, adding new types of mangrove which included Brugueira Gymnoriza and Rhizopora Stylosa and conducting a new experiment of mangrove restoration with the Ecological Mangrove Restoration (EMR). Mangrove ecosystem strengthening also included constructing a 700-meter-long breakwater using old tires in Kelurahan Tugurejo-Karanganyar and a 200-meter-long Hybrid Engineering (HE) in Kelurahan Trimulyo. Both the old tire breakwater and HE are meant to protect and strengthen the present mangrove ecosystem. Meanwhile, the alternative livelihood expansion included the development of ecotourism which provides extra income for the coastal community that involved in the business management; improvement of fish cracker production that also provides additional income for the women’s group; also development of tilapia fish cultivation as alternative commodity in the area.

Community members gained various benefits from the activities, which included more knowledge related to impacts of climate change, types of mangrove seedlings and cultivation techniques, the design and shape of breakwaters, also increasing adaptive capacity by having alternative livelihoods as a coastal community. As mentioned by Sumadi from one of the coastal community groups in the area, they are familiar with mangrove planting since back then. There are many programs related to it. However, the other important part of the mangrove ecosystem strengthening efforts is how to maintain the mangrove after it’s planted. “Usually, an activity like this was only about the planting, but now we also need to check and monitor the growth of mangrove. We have learnt more and there are more diverse activities now,” he said.

Though the project itself has ended, the efforts to strengthen the mangrove ecosystem are not limited in time. The involved stakeholders, especially the community and government, can continue to build upon the substantial progress made in understanding that healthy ecosystem services underpin aspects of sustainable livelihoods, protection, and the well-being of coastal urban communities, particularly the poor and marginalized.

Lessons can be learned from the MANGROVE project in addition to many other ideas about linking healthy ecosystems to human well-being. To continue striving toward simultaneously improving ecosystems as well as the lives of urban inhabitants, a number of additional measures can be taken by community members, local government and city officials, municipal-level planners and decision-makers, development practitioners, and resilience stakeholders, to better understand this linkage.

It is very important to involve the community to create sustainability. The approach used in the project implemented in Semarang is a community-based approach. Community groups were actively involved and they participated in mangrove restoration activity and sustainable livelihood development which created motivation and a sense of ownership. They are the main actors who should maintain their environment.

Practical recommendations to undertake this are to develop a qualitative and quantitative valuation system to better understand the economic benefits provided by ecosystems services in the associated coastal urban ecosystem, to integrate nature-based and ecosystem-service aspects into the city-level planning and decision-making agenda, to apply an ecosystem-based approach to urban resilience planning and implementation, to increase participation and community engagement through the co-management of coastal ecosystem spaces, to expand ecosystem conservation through economic incentives, and to continue to build awareness and a knowledge platform amongst stakeholders.

Drawing from the lessons learned during the MANGROVE project in Semarang City and a number of tangible recommendations, the conservation, sustainable use, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of ecosystems services can be utilized to improve the urban resilience as well as well-being of millions of coastal urban inhabitants.

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1Friend, Richard; MacClune, Kenneth. 2013. Climate Resilience Framework: Putting Resilience Into Practice. Boulder, CO USA: ISET-International.

2Gunawan, Iwan; Sagala, Saut Aritua Hasiholan; Amin, Suryani; Zawani, Hoferdy; Mangunsong, Ruby. 2016. City Risk Diagnostic for Urban Resilience in Indonesia. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group.

3Mercy Corps Indonesia. 2016. Final Narrative Report: Enhancing Coastal Community Resilience by Strengthening Mangrove Ecosystem Services and Developing Sustainable Livelihoods in Semarang City.