It was an early Saturday morning in Timbul Sloko, at the North Coast of central Java, Indonesia, and not just any Saturday. It was a day of hope. The community gathered together to discuss the rehabilitation of their lost land.
There seemed to be no means of stopping it. Major investments were made in infrastructural responses like seawalls and wave barriers, but all these efforts failed. Even mangrove replanting was not successful as the conditions weren’t right, such as the input of sufficient sediment. So, floods kept on creeping further into the village and taking away more land, by 100 meters every year.
The people were desperate; having to restore their homes time and again after floods. They already witnessed neighboring villages being swallowed by the sea. Timbul Sloko people were just beginning to think about giving up and moving to Kalimantan…
Building with Nature
But then a new solution was introduced in the village, called ‘Building with Nature’. This solution entails the placement of permeable dams (see picture, supported by the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF)), which are inspired on a method used by the Dutch for over a century to reclaim lost land. The permeable dams break the waves and trap sediment thus reclaiming land. Once the land is back, mangroves can recolonise the area and help protect the coastline against erosion.
Seeing the evidence of success
Villagers had been waiting impatiently to see the evidence of success of this new ‘permeable structures’ approach. And this day has come. Pak Nadiri, the village head, points to the waves. They are clearly much lower inside the grid of permeable dams than outside. In some cases, pioneering mangrove trees are already testing the ground.
This morning, the village signed a decree, demarcating 100 hectares of the currently lost land as protected area. This means that once the mangrove belt is restored, it will not suffer the same fate again.
We stand in the watchtower that oversees the village, but this time is different. When we look around the village, we no longer see only the despair, but also the potential and hope for a new landscape in which mangroves and aquaculture can be combined sustainably. There are many challenges on the road ahead, but this is a time to celebrate a first step.