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Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum

Assessing the way society views natural resources / Indonesia and Russia

Posted By: Ian Dutton and Michael Shilin
Date: Tuesday, 6 March 2001, at 4:14 p.m.

In Response To: How societal thinking shapes attitudes to resource exploitation / Indonesia.(+Bahasa Indonesia) (Boedhihartono and Nurlini Kasri)


There is an ongoing, intensifying debate in Indonesia about the impacts of decentralization on natural resources. As from January 2001, Law 22 of 1999 on Regional Autonomy and a related law on financial decentralization (Law 25/1999) has come into effect. There is mounting concern that these reforms will create incentives and pressures for increased and largely unregulated exploitation of forest, mineral and marine resources. Very few regional administrations are adequately prepared to implement these new arrangements. The central government agencies responsible for coordinating decentralization arrangements have been unable to establish the necessary policy frameworks and agreements prior to the new laws taking effect.

There are many factors that affect the patterns and processes of resource exploitation in Indonesia from the individual to the societal levels. However, there is now good evidence to suggest that a lack of concern for Indonesia's natural resources is not the key factor that some believe.

Proyek Pesisir, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Coastal Resources Management Project, implemented by the Coastal Resources Center of the University of Rhode Island, recently completed the first national baseline survey of public attitudes towards coastal and marine resources. The sample comprised some 1,600 respondents divided equally between the Jabotabek area and three provinces - Lampung, East Kalimantan and North Sulawesi. The survey was further stratified into coastal and inland residents.

Two key findings emerged from the survey. Firstly, Indonesians lack an adequate knowledge of the geography, ecology, cultural, political and socio-economic significance of marine resources. For example, most people do not know that Indonesia's seas are the global centre of biodiversity, few know that Indonesia has more than 500 islands and only 19% know the name of the Marine Minister! These findings are a clear indictment of the national education system and evidence of a development paradigm that was mostly land-focused during the past 50 years.

The second key finding, is however, cause for much hope. Survey results indicate that Indonesians are very concerned about marine and coastal resources and are committed to playing their part in resolving current problems. More than 80% of Indonesians think that marine resources are important to their future. They identify marine pollution as the sixth most important issue in the country (after things like employment and education costs, but above issues like road improvement and eradication of poverty). They believe that making resources last is more important than satisfying material needs such as buying new clothes regularly. And they believe that specific conservation practices are needed such as returning captured juvenile fish, dolphin and turtles to the sea and reprimanding fishers who use illegal techniques.

One further finding of significance is that despite the seeming growing significance of religion and religious thinking, respondents ranked religious leaders 9th in a list of 12 groups who should be responsible for protection of marine resources. Highest on the list was the Navy, local government and local people themselves.

While these results need to be interpreted cautiously, they point to a strong local base of concern for the health of coastal and marine ecosystems and recognition of the links between ecosystem health and community welfare. These beliefs form a promising foundation from which to build the partnerships for sustainable coastal and marine resource management.

Survey results are formally published and available from Proyek Pesisir <>.

Mr. Ian Dutton,
Project leader,
Proyek Pesisir,
Jakarta, Indonesia.


In order to formulate effective coastal management programmes, it is necessary to have information about the ways in which various groups (local stakeholders, elected officials, administrators, professionals etc.), and in particular those involved in policy making, view nature. An investigation was conducted of the diversity of ecological thinking (goals, beliefs, approaches) among 30 specialists in coastal ecology in Georgia, USA, and the Baltic and White Seas, Russia, based on their reaction to a set of specially designed statements. Analysis of the survey results resulted in six different types of ‘ecological thinking’ being identified:

Neo-Malthusians: This group sees overpopulation as the key problem of the coastal zone. This type of thinking is ecocentric. Human beings are treated as ordinary members of an ‘ecological team’. The easiest way to solve coastal zone ecological problems is through the control of population growth.

Romantics: They view the most important resources of the coastal zone as cultural ones, not material ones. They are also ecocentric and admire the beauty and principles of nature, and would like to stop any kind of human activities on the coast.

Nature partners: They accept that human beings should work and develop different kinds of activities in the coastal zone, but that these activities should be nature-friendly. They treat nature as a partner and believe that humans should not change the system, but cohabit in a type of symbiotic relationship.

Ecological economists: They believe that coastal management should be based on economic factors, including stakeholders self-interest. The basis for the sustainable development of the coastal area is a well-structured market.

Nature users: They believe that humans can ‘rule’ the coastal region, and for them, stakeholder self-interest and private business are the most important aspects of sustainable development. They believe in the importance of new technology to help solve some of the problems.

Nature doctors: They view nature as a source of resources for people, who can heal and improve sick ecosystems. They believe modern technology, including genetic engineering, can improve life in the coastal ecosystem.

The six types can be divided into two major ways of ecological thinking: ecocentric (Neo-Malthusian and Romantic) and anthropcentric (Ecological economists, Nature users and Nature doctors). Nature partners serve as a bridge between the two. The largest number of people from the group (40%) shared the Neo-Malthusian views.

Mr. Michael Shilin,
State Hydrometeorological University,
St. Petersburg, Russia.

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