Before COVID-19 hits, international efforts to ensure ocean health and wealth were gaining momentum, from the launch of High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel) and the IPCC 2019 Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, to the 1,615 registered commitments to achieve SDG 14 (Life Below Water) in the UN Ocean Conference and the USD 500 million committed to action at the Our Ocean Conferences, hosted by Indonesia in 2018. Unfortunately, there are potentials for setbacks. The global economic recession resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic poses a new threat to the ocean. Stimulus investments directed towards high-polluting sectors and the roll back of environmental standards may reverse vital progress already made towards ocean sustainability and climate change mitigation.

Decisions taken in response to the COVID-19 crisis about how to stimulate the ocean economy and associated industries - such as fisheries, aquaculture, mineral exploration, transportation, and infrastructure - must be matched with a parallel commitment to transition ocean industries towards smarter, sustainable practices for long-term health, social, economic and environmental benefits.

Such action will not only provide relief to the current economic crisis, but will also conserve marine ecosystems, promote human wellbeing, and build social and economic resilience to future crises. Investing in a sustainable ocean economy is an excellent deal. Recent analysis by the World Resources Institute demonstrated that there will be a return of five dollars for every US dollar invested in select areas of ocean-based economic activities such as offshore wind for renewable energy, greening of shipping fleets, or nature based solutions.

Indonesia, a member of the G20, plays critical role in the world’s ocean economy. Not only is Indonesia the largest archipelagic country in the world, it is also host to the richest marine biodiversity in the world. Indonesia is also part of Ocean Panel, which connects 14 world leaders in their ambition to build a sustainable ocean economy predicated on simultaneous effective protection, sustainable production and prosperity for all. Last year, the government of Indonesia pledged to implement three key actions in advancing a global sustainable ocean economy.

First, reducing marine plastic debris. Indonesia is reported to be the second largest plastic polluter in the world. Indonesia’s ability to collect waste is estimated at only 39 percent, with only 8 percent in recycling capacity. This leaves waste disposal unmanaged with risk of leakage into the ocean.

Waste and plastic in the ocean damage marine ecosystems and eventually find their way to Indonesia’s food. An Indonesia Institute of Science (LIPI)study revealed that 89 percent of anchovies fished in Indonesian waters have been contaminated by microplastics. The study also suggested that every Indonesian may be ingesting up to 1,500 microplastic particles from fish consumption every year. This increases the exposure of many Indonesians to microplastics and may exacerbate public health problems.

The Government of Indonesia has committed to reducing 70 percent of Indonesia’s marine plastic debris by 2025 and to becoming plastic pollution-free by 2040. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry in 2019 launched a roadmap for manufacturers to reduce waste and achieve targets to produce recyclable plastic materials by 2030. Furthermore, companies and capital investment are increasing participation in tackling marine debris and creating new economic activities and jobs associated with a circular economy. The effort is supported by the National Plastic Action Partnership, which includes state and non-state actors.

Second, combating Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing. Indonesia’s National Commission on Stock Assessments in 2017 showed that nearly half of the nation’s wild fish stocks were overfished partly due to IUU fishing, leading to an estimated loss of USD 4 billion annually. The global loss is estimated at around USD 10-23 billion annually.

The IUU fishing in Indonesia takes many forms including: foreign boats that are authorized to fish, but misreport the size or type of their vessel to avoid monitoring and taxes; foreign boats disguising ownership by using local names; and misreporting of catches.

Indonesia has strengthened the surveillance in its sea territory and exclusive economic zone by improving the licensing system for fishing vessels to record the number of vessels operating in the sea and to monitor the exploitation of fish resources. Indonesia’s effort to curtail IUU fishing from foreign-flagged vessels facilitate recovery of overfished stock, and ultimately increases production and profit from fisheries. Such effort and continued fisheries management would allow long-term benefits of livelihood and employment as well as tackle food security by providing access to protein for vulnerable household.

Lastly, mainstreaming a blue carbon agenda into climate mitigation and adaptation planning. Indonesia holds the largest blue carbon stocks globally, accounting for 17 percent. The country also ranks first in terms of mangrove coverage and is home to 22.6 percent of the total area of mangroves globally.

Mangroves play a significant role in supporting mitigation and adaptation in addressing climate change threats. They also serve as a nursery ground for fish and effective coastal defense against storm surges or tsunamis, and provide livelihoods for coastal communities. The preservation and restoration of mangroves not only ensure the resilience of fisheries but also create jobs for coastal communities and offer opportunities for long-term economic growth and prosperity. For example, the restoration of an ex-mining area into Belitung Mangrove Park in Sumatra has created 164 jobs for the community, delivered monthly income amounting to 50-65 million rupiahs, and attracted additional investment of 22 billion rupiahs.

Indonesia supports the inclusion of the greenhouse gas emission mitigation potential of mangroves into climate change negotiations. The country has underlined the importance of mangrove inventory and rehabilitation in its Mid Term National Development Plan (RPJMN) 2020-2024. Furthermore, Indonesia targets to rehabilitate 1.82 million hectares of mangrove forest and protect 1.67 million hectares of primary mangrove forest by 2045. If successful, Indonesia can bring its mangroves back to 3.49 million hectares (the size recorded in 2015) and enhance its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).

Indonesia’s commitment to a global, healthy, and sustainable ocean is not incompatible with restarting the economy. Indeed, COVID-19 may possess challenges, but it also provides economic opportunity and the foundation of a resilient economy without compromising the ocean ecosystem.