For more fish and healthier corals in Bali, focus on communities and connectivity: study

  • A new review highlights improvements that can be made to the conservation of Bali’s coral reefs, which face multiple local stressors, as well as warming waters and coral bleaching.
  • Although there are more coral-focused conservation initiatives in Bali than anywhere else in Indonesia, not all of them are successful, say the authors, leaving much room for improvement, especially when it comes to design. and the management of protected areas.
  • The authors recommend a more coordinated approach to managing marine protected areas to create networks that effectively protect mobile species, such as turtles, sharks, rays and other fish.
  • The review warns that despite the successes of local initiatives, climate change remains the biggest threat to coral reefs in Bali and around the world.

Bali sits in the heart of the Pacific Coral Triangle, an area of ​​the ocean that is home to the greatest diversity of coral species in the world. The reefs around the Indonesian island provide food and shelter for over 800 species of fish and a host of other creatures, from anemones, sea urchins and sea slugs, to octopus, crabs and shrimp. This delicate balance of biodiversity in turn strengthens the livelihoods, diets and identity of islanders.

But Bali’s coral reefs, like their counterparts around the world, face multiple stressors. Along with the existential threat of climate change and coral bleaching, overfishing and destructive fishing, pollution, invasive species and the effects of excessive dive tourism are taking their toll.

To halt the decline of coral reefs, local communities, NGOs and government agencies have launched numerous projects in the waters of the island, ranging from the designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), to the construction of artificial reefs and implementing coral rehabilitation and education programs. However, much more needs to be done to safeguard these crucial coastal ecosystems, according to a recent study published in the Journal for the conservation of nature.

The study highlights the need for community involvement to improve compliance and local enforcement of regulations, as well as the possibility of linking Bali’s MPAs into a larger interconnected network.

A fisherman searches for fish on a reef in Indonesia. Coral reefs are vital nurseries for commercially important fish species. Photo by Erik Lukas/Ocean Image Bank

Zach Boakes, PhD student at Bournemouth University, and his colleagues reviewed the body of scientific and local literature investigating marine conservation issues in Bali. While they identified many examples of marine conservation best practice, they also found gaps in MPA management that continue to allow non-compliance with regulations.

“Stakeholder involvement has played a big role in the successes/failures of Bali’s MPAs, with the most successful MPAs being those that involve the community the most,” Boakes, who is also co-founder of North Bali Reef Conservation , a non-profit organization based in Bali. (NBRC), Mongabay told in an email. He added that some MPAs have failed to gain compliance from fishers due to the authorities implementing a top-down management method with little stakeholder involvement. As a result, the destructive practices continued.

“Now, increasingly on a local scale, [community-managed] MPAs are popping up across the island,” he said. “It’s great because these projects involve the community at every step, and are often even implemented by local people… Inevitably, these projects are more successful.”

Harnessing the power of communities is also a key success factor in individual coral reef restoration initiatives. According to another review of more than 500 coral reef restoration projects in Indonesia over the past three decades, projects tend to fail due to inadequate long-term monitoring and evaluation. The authors found that community-led projects were much more likely to exhibit these crucial elements and therefore lead to improvements in reef health.

Boakes has direct experience of community-led action to address ecosystem degradation. Since 2016, he has been working with NBRC alongside community members from Tianyar, a small fishing village in northeast Bali, to restore a nearby reef that has been destroyed by unsustainable fishing. To date, villagers and volunteers have installed around 8,500 artificial reef structures, which has increased marine biodiversity almost tenfold.

coral transplant
International and local volunteers transplant coral onto artificial reefs off the fishing village of Tianyar, north Bali. Photo courtesy of North Bali Reef Conservation

The authors recommend that marine resource managers work in a more coordinated way by collaborating across administrative regions to link Bali’s three officially recognized MPAs – West Bali National Park, Pemutaran MPA and the island of Nusa Penida – with the wealth of community-managed MPAs that exist in the island’s waters to create a vast, highly connected network. According to the authors, such a network would better protect large migratory and mobile animals such as turtles, sharks and marine mammals and species important to commercial fishing, while improving opportunities to share best practices.

Boakes said progress was underway towards creating a network of MPAs off the northeast coast of the island: “I hope these projects will be successfully implemented and will continue to be implemented in other regions of the island”.

The authors also call on MPA managers to clearly mark the boundaries of areas in marine parks using buoys, beach signs or regular public meetings. Clearer delineation of zoning would boost compliance, they say, by making stakeholders, such as fishers, more aware of restrictions and regulations.

Besides scaling up community-based reef conservation initiatives and improving MPA management, Boakes said education programs, continued restoration of degraded coral reefs and better waste management could also help improve the health of Bali’s coral reefs.

Nevertheless, these multiple localized actions have their limits, according to Boakes. “The most important thing to protect reefs around the world is an overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “This needs to happen to stop ocean warming and acidification, thereby protecting corals from bleaching [which is] the number one threat to reefs worldwide.

Banner image: Coral reef in Indonesia. Photo by Beth Watson/Ocean Image Bank


Boakes, Z., Hall, AE, Ampou, EE, Jones, GC, Suryaputra, IGNA, Mahyuni, LP, … Stafford, R. (2022). Conservation of Coral Reefs in Bali in Light of International Best Practices, A Literature Review. Journal for Nature Conservation, 67126190.doi:10.1016/j.jnc.2022.126190

Razak, TB, Boström-Einarsson, L., Alisa, CAG, Vida, RT, and Lamont, TAC (2022). Restoring coral reefs in Indonesia: a review of policies and projects. Shipping Policy137. doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2021.104940

Carolyn Cowan is a writer for Mongabay. Follow her on Twitter @CarolynCowan11

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