Perhaps there is no country in the world that might have a greater need than Indonesia to be concerned about its ocean space and resources.
After centuries of being at the epicenter of international trade and commerce due to its geo-strategic location on the the Asia Pacific Rim, Indonesia, which forms the world’s largest archipelago (more than 17,500 islands) and possesses the greatest marine biodiversity of any region of the world, should be recognized as one of the most significant maritime nations.
Indeed, prior to the colonial era, Indonesia was one of the strongest maritime powers in the Asia-Pacific region. Moreover, at times when the Law of the Sea was negotiated, Indonesia was respected as one of the most outstanding leaders, especially in ensuring the archipelagic concept (the 1957 Djoeanda Declaration) was incorporated into the 1982 UNCLOS.
However, from the beginning of colonialism until the fall of the New Order government (1998), Indonesia has turned its back on the oceans and has not dealt effectively with coastal and ocean development as a sustainable source of its competitiveness, prosperity and sovereignty.
For more than three and a half centuries, most Indonesians had perceived the oceans as “a marginal land” with insignificant economic potential and no strategic value for the nation.
Such a misleading perception was obviously reflected in the allocation of government funds, credit loans, human resources, science and technology, infrastructure and other management input into coastal and ocean development sectors that have been much smaller than those for land-based development sectors.
It is no coincidence the pattern of coastal and ocean resource development in the past was characterized by low technological content, inefficient and highly extractive, with no regard for environmental and resource sustainability.
As a corollary, the physical destruction of vital coastal ecosystems (coral reefs, sea-grass beds, mangroves, estuaries and beaches), pollution, overfishing, biodiversity loss and other environmental stresses in some coastal areas (such as parts of the Malacca Strait, Jakarta Bay, the south coast of South Sulawesi, Buyat Bay and Aijkwa estuary in Papua) has reached a level that threatens their sustainable capacity in supporting further economic development.
Indonesian seas actually have tremendous economic, socio-cultural, and ecological functions, which are invaluable not only to Indonesia but also to the rest of the world. Indonesia is blessed with abundant and diverse coastal and ocean resources ranging from non-renewable resources such as oil and gas, iron ores, tin, bauxite, gold, copper and other minerals, and renewable resources including fish, marine organisms, mangroves, coral reefs and seaweed. Moreover, Indonesia’s coastal and ocean ecosystems have many other roles and functions in people’s daily lives and the economic development of the nation including tourism, sea transportation and communication, ports and harbors, maritime industries and services, cooling water for industries, waste assimilation and conservation.
In 2007 the contribution of coastal and ocean development sectors to the Indonesian economy was estimated at $100 billion (one-quarter of GDP), which is much lower than the total potential estimates of US$800 billion annually. Those coastal and ocean sectors represent a significant source of economic and social welfare, supporting directly or indirectly 60 percent of the Indonesian population who currently live in the coastal zone.
Preliminary estimates indicate these activities provide employment opportunities for about 16 million people. Thus, if we could boost coastal and ocean development to up to 50 percent of the national GDP, then new employment opportunities for about 15 million people would be created.