Roberval Tavares
Ashoka Fellow since 2005   |   Indonesia

Meity Mongdong

In Bunaken National Marine Park, Meity Mongdong is spearheading the development of an innovative co-management system that has enlisted the participation and support of all major stakeholders. The…
Read more
This description of Meity Mongdong's work was prepared when Meity Mongdong was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2005.


In Bunaken National Marine Park, Meity Mongdong is spearheading the development of an innovative co-management system that has enlisted the participation and support of all major stakeholders. The system is demonstrating its effectiveness in protecting endangered marine resources, and it is serving as a model for efforts to ensure the effective management, conservation, and sustainable use of natural resources in other national parks and protected areas in Indonesia.

The New Idea

Meity has been working tirelessly for more than a decade to introduce an innovative collaborative management system in Bunaken National Marine Park in North Sulawesi that is a marked departure from the centralized, top-down approach to the management of national parks and other conservation areas that has long prevailed in Indonesia. She aims to encourage and prepare people living in villages within the park to participate actively in the park’s management. Meity has organized training programs that have exposed park residents to the costs of resource-depleting actions and the benefits of effective conservation measures, and she has spearheaded the establishment of a permanent Concerned Citizens’ Forum. She has also taken the lead in stimulating the formation of a new park Management Council, a multi-stakeholder decision-making body in which forum representatives currently occupy six of its fifteen seats.
With the authorization of the council, Meity has organized a collaborative rezoning process that has clearly demarcated the three types of marine areas—tourism regions, fishing regions, and “no-take” conservation zones. To ensure the effective enforcement of the new zoning scheme, she has also developed a 24-hour co-patrolling system in which community representatives regularly participate and the attendant costs are covered from park entrance fee revenues.
The co-management approach that Meity has introduced in Bunaken enjoys the enthusiastic support of all stakeholders. It has also been endorsed by the governor of North Sulawesi, and senior Forestry Ministry officials in Jakarta have publicly supported its replication in other national park settings. In an effort to facilitate that process, Meity has traveled to other marine national parks in Sulawesi, Komodo Island, Papua, and Malaysia, where she has discussed the Bunaken model with the relevant public officials and leaders of citizen-sector organizations.

The Problem

With more than 60,000 kilometers of coral reefs that comprise approximately 20 percent of the world’s reef coverage, Indonesia is one of the most important countries from a marine conservation perspective. Unfortunately, however, years of uncontrolled exploitation have left a large portion of Indonesia’s coral reefs in an endangered state. Recent estimates suggest that some 80 percent of the productive ecosystems of the country’s reefs are threatened, as are the livelihoods of the coastal communities that they support. Uncontrolled cutting of mangroves for cooking fuel and to make charcoal used in fish-smoking factories has resulted in the loss of protection against coastal erosion. The widespread use of explosives in blast fishing has also taken a heavy toll, as has the use of cyanide bleaches to stun and catch live reef fish sought for aquariums and as exportable delicacies.
The ever-diminishing base of marine resources has led, in turn, to increasingly bitter and destructive conflicts among coastal villagers and between those villagers and outside exploiters. Because of a lack of sufficient information and understanding of matters relating to the conservation of reefs and the sustainability of the marine resources that they support, residents of coastal communities have tended to focus their concerns on issues of immediate survival. They have also resented their exclusion from decision-making processes relating to their environments and livelihoods, and they often perceive themselves as the victims of development processes that benefit outsiders.
The 35 national parks in Indonesia, ten of which have significant marine areas, are far from being environmental havens. Under the highly centralized management of the national Ministry of Forestry, zoning systems and regulations have been established without involving representatives of communities within or near the parks with the result that the regulations are neither well understood nor effectively enforced. The lack of adequate patrolling and enforcement of sanctions has resulted in the continued degradation of these supposedly protected environments. In addition, economic benefits gained from the existence of the parks have been funneled, for the most part, to the central government or to private investors, and systems to ensure the public accountability of park management have been notably absent.
The exploitation of the archipelago’s vast natural resources has reached the point where the continued existence of forests and coral reefs in Indonesia some two or three decades from now is in serious doubt. Instances of mismanagement and destruction of those resources abound, while success stories are few and far between. To be sure, the current government’s emphasis on decentralization provides a window of opportunity for local initiatives to assure the effective management of natural resources. All too often, however, decentralization has ushered in the uncontrolled exploitation of those resources by greedy local officials who view them as sources of public revenue or private gain that must be exploited while they are still in office. The need is urgent for new approaches to the management of natural resources that are based upon respect for local communities, the participation of all the relevant stakeholders, and a sophisticated understanding of the fragile balance of natural and human ecosystems.

The Strategy

Since the early 1990s, Meity has been working to ensure effective grassroots participation in the management of Bunaken National Park, a marine park in North Sulawesi world famous for its coral reefs and for the marine diversity of its waters. Designated a national park in 1991, the 89,065-hectare region is the home of some 30,000 people, who live in the 30 communities on the five main islands within the park. The principal focus of Meity’s efforts has been the development and refinement of a pioneering co-management system in the park and the introduction of related zoning, patrolling, and revenue-sharing measures.
Meity’s first initiative to engage the residents of local communities in issues relating to the park’s mission and management was a series of gatherings with villagers and school children in the park area. In the early 1990s, through research and fieldwork in the park as a university student specializing in marine sciences, Meity had established close relations with various village groups, including church organizations, women’s groups, community councils, and with key local leaders. Drawing on those contacts to enlist participants, and working with a team of young activists, Meity organized a series of meetings and workshops. These helped community residents understand the dangers and costs of resource-depleting actions and the potential benefits of conservation measures, and exposed them to resource-conserving alternatives to destructive practices, including the use of coconut husks rather than mangrove cuttings in the production of charcoal.
Those meetings resulted in important changes in the attitudes and practices of community residents, and led directly to the establishment of a Concerned Citizens’ forum. Membership in the forum is open to all of the people living in the park area, and each of the park’s 30 settlements elect three to five representatives to serve as forum coordinators at the village or park-wide level. The forum serves as a permanent vehicle for airing views and sharing information on issues relating to the park’s mission and policies. To help ensure that information and policy decisions reach citizens at the community level, the forum has organized a radio communication system, and it maintains attractive bulletin boards in each of the park’s communities.
In 2000, Meity played a central role in stimulating the establishment of the Bunaken National Park Management Council, a multi-stakeholder decision-making body that includes National Park and local government officials and representatives of relevant nongovernmental and private sector organizations, the academic community, and the Concerned Citizens’ Forum. (As a consequence of Meity’s effective lobbying, representatives drawn from the Concerned Citizens’ Forum were initially allocated five and now occupy six of the fifteen seats on that Council.) With the participation of forum representatives in the park’s decision-making processes thus assured, Meity is continuing her efforts to make the forum itself a more effective information-sharing and deliberative body.
Recognizing the importance of a mutually-agreed-upon zoning system and taking advantage of new government policies that authorize the participation of village stakeholders in rezoning processes, Meity encouraged representatives of local communities to work with diving company operators and park authorities in creating a new, straightforward and readily enforceable zoning system. In the new system, three categories of marine area—tourism regions, fishing regions, and “no-take” conservation zones—have been clearly demarcated. Villagers and other participants in the rezoning process have agreed on local boundaries and on new regulations governing the use of each of the three zones. To enforce those regulations, Meity has spearheaded the establishment of a new 24-hour co-patrolling system in which each patrol includes water police, park officials, and community representatives and funds for patrol boats and fuel are drawn from park entrance fees.
The co-management model now in place in Bunaken is meeting with wide acceptance and support. Owners of diving companies and guesthouses have come to realize that they are part of a larger community and that their businesses cannot succeed without the cooperation of the local people. Rather than harboring suspicions and blaming other parties, as they have in the past, they have found that working together in the Park Management Council has produced important positive results—including very evident reef recovery since co-patrols began enforcing the new zoning system.
Meity recently presented the co-management system that she has spearheaded in Bunaken to senior officials of the Ministry of Forestry in Jakarta, who were extremely positive in their response and have publicly supported the replication of the system in other national parks. In response to the growing attention and support that its management system is receiving, Bunaken now hosts frequent visits from officials and citizen-based groups in other national park settings who are eager to replicate the Bunaken approach. Meity also visits other marine national parks, including those in Sulawesi, Komodo Island, Papua and Malaysia, where she meets with public officials and citizen’s groups to encourage the introduction of the Bunaken co-management model.

The Person

Meity grew up on a small island at the edge of the Bunaken area, with a love for the sea and a deep awareness of the challenges that coastal communities confront in their quest for economic survival. Meity’s parents, a teacher and a nurse, instilled in her at an early age a strong commitment to community service.
When the leading university in nearby Manado opened a department of fisheries and marine sciences, Meity became one of the department’s first students, and when she found the program insufficiently challenging, she formed a study group with fellow students to engage in field research. In 1994, while she was still a university student, Meity was recruited to serve as a village liaison officer in a USAID-funded natural resources management program in Bunaken. The coordinators of that project were extremely supportive and open to her ideas. Meity thrived on the opportunities afforded her both to develop her scientific interests in coastal ecology and to pursue her concerns for the welfare of residents of coastal communities.
In the mid-1990s, Meity joined other activists in founding Kelola, a local, citizen-based organization focused on marine conservation, and she worked for four years as that organization’s field research coordinator. In that role she intensified her engagement in issues relating to the management of the Bunaken National Park and the well-being of people in fishing and farming communities in the park area. In the late 1990s, she also helped establish Suara Parangpuan, the first citizen sector organization in Manado dealing with women and gender issues.
In 2002, Meity was awarded the Seacology Award, which recognizes outstanding local leaders who risk their personal well-being to protect island ecosystems and cultures. Meity has also assisted the efforts of the Seacology Foundation, a California-based organization, to support coastal communities in Bunaken and in the Aru Islands in Maluku through several small-scale projects, including the building of a public dock, the reconstruction of a village school, and a community-managed reef rehabilitation endeavor.

Are you a Fellow? Use the Fellow Directory!

This will help you quickly discover and know how best to connect with the other Ashoka Fellows.