Fishing with explosives in Mentawais angers surfers, conservationists

Fishermen have often joked, after hours of not catching anything, that they wished they had some dynamite. But in the Mentawai Islands in Indonesia, fishing with explosives is no joke: This practice, carried out illegally by visiting fishermen aboard skiffs, is destroying precious reefs that are critical to the health of the marine ecosystem. The reefs also are important for a tourism industry supported largely by surfers, who visit because of the perfect waves that break over the reefs, but also because of the pristine nature of the region. (See video footage posted below.)

Skiff fishermen in the Mentawais toss explosives to kill the fish they like to catch, but the method also destroys precious reefs and the marine ecosystem. Credit: Carter/Surfer magazine

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But for the past several weeks the serenity has been shattered.

“For over a month now, the Playgrounds area has had at least three boats bombing our reefs every day,” the owner of a surf resort told Surfer magazine, referring to a popular surfing spot. “When the weather is good, they can do more than five cycles of bombing and collecting the dead fish in a day. Each cycle is between five to eight bombs. Calculating a low average, we estimate more than 2,250 bombs have been exploded in our 15-mile radius area.”

Complaints to local and national government agencies have fallen on deaf ears.

The accompanying video shows fishermen tossing bombs, which send water cascading skyward, and a silhouetted man stepping forth repeatedly to complain about the lack of any type of response by a government that seems too preoccupied by other matters to deal with this issue.

If this level of destruction continues, of course, it will be devastating for local fisheries, the marine environment, and surfing-related tourism.

“Every time the surf season ends these guys descend,” Jess Ponting, director of the Center for Surf Research at San Diego State University, told Surfer. “It seems more concentrated this year, but perhaps they are just working closer to the surf resorts, or perhaps there are now more surf resorts, where people see it and are horrified by it.”

Ponting added that the fishermen doing the most damage are not locals trying to find food for their families, but commercial fishermen from the Sumatran mainland more than 100 miles away, making the situation more frustrating because they’re inadvertently harming the local population.

Ponting says that 86 percent of Indonesia’s reefs are threatened, and that most will be dead by 2020 if the current rate of destruction continues.

Surfer quoted another surf camp owner as saying: “Although we have called every agency possible, nothing has been done and the boats are still operating as we speak. The goal is to help Indonesians feel strongly about protecting their waters from bomb boats, and nudge them into action. Time is against us. Please spread the word.”

A petition has been established and those who care about the people of the Mentawais and the marine environment are encouraged to sign.

For more on this issue, visit Surfer magazine