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“The earth needs our help; let us be the helping hand!”

Ocean Witness Tika shares her story

Tika Sumolang lives on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, where she has been involved with WWF since the beginning of her career. Living by the ocean, and in her jobs of Marine Protected Area and Biodiversity Officer, she’s noticing the deteriorating state of the ocean. One of the things she’s witnessed is plastic pollution. Passionate about protecting the waters, she is part of a community that raises awareness and organises events to help preserve the ocean. Joining forces with residents and connecting to the local government, Tika is positive about the future and shares her story with us today.

become an ocean witness
14 March 2019 | Wakatobi, Sulawesi

What is your earliest memory of the ocean?

When I was young, my family would take me to the sea during the weekend. That’s when I started to grow fond of the sea, and not just the beaches, but beyond the seashore. Back then, the ocean was just a fun place for swimming but also, it had a whole life of its own to be discovered. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always felt this desire to learn more about the sea, to know how deep it is and what’s going on down there.

 

The ocean is a big part of your job, and what does the ocean mean to you on a personal level?

The ocean plays a huge part in the lives of human beings. It provides us with fish and other sources of nutrition. Next to that, it’s a great place for people to enjoy themselves, because of the colorful corals, unique fish and the inexplicable beauty of sea creatures. That’s why I love diving. I like recreational diving, but there’s so much more! When diving, I also do underwater photography, coral and fish identification and fish size mapping.

The ocean, for me, is one more reason to be thankful for the beauty of the earth. There’s so many things to see and discover, really, it’s a whole world on its own! That’s why the ocean truly fascinates me and it inspires me to take good care of the ocean.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always felt this desire to learn more about the sea.”
Tika Sumolang

You’ve been working within the marine team of WWF Indonesia for almost a decade now. What are the main changes that you’ve witnessed in the ocean?

Unfortunately, I’ve seen quite a lot of things change in the ocean. One of the main things I’ve noticed is the deterioration and diminishing of coral reefs. For example, there are broken corals which is often caused by the ships casting their anchor without checking for living creatures. Other issues with coral are the bleaching as a consequence of global warming, and drupella. Drupella is a snail species that feeds on coral polyps. Their consumption of the live coral tissue leaves the coral reef with white scars. Sadly, feeding scars severely inhibit the re-growth of new coral. Drupella outbreaks are caused by overfishing, as this can clean out an entire maritime area of the snails’ predators. Even worse than drupella is the practice of coral removal, which happens when parts of the sea are being sacrificed in order to expand areas of land.

Next to corals, I’m seeing other marine species suffering. Due to shark hunting, the entire food chain is affected. Because they are predators, sharks are at the top of the food chain. As this layer of the chain is shrinking severely, the balance in all other species is disturbed. This, along with overfishing, cause a decrease of the number and size of various schools of fish.

And then of course there’s the human waste: daily trash dumps into the sea – plastic especially, baby’s diapers, bags and even nets. The most confronting thing for me to witness was last November, when I found a 9 meter sperm whale washed up on the shores of Kapota, South-East Sulawesi. We opened him up to investigate the contents of his stomach and digestive tract and what we found was truly horrific. The sperm whale had ingested an amount of plastic close to 6 kgs, containing 115 plastic cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags, two flip-flops, a nylon sack and more than 1,000 other pieces of hard plastic. It still makes me sad to think about how it was humans that did this to him.

“I believe in joining forces for a good cause. Together we can organise programs that result in increased livelihood security and a healthier ocean in the future.”
Tika Sumolang

How do these changes affect you?

The way our planet, and oceans in particular, are being treated by people, makes me feel really uncomfortable sometimes. Take the example of landscaping shore areas to create fake beaches… Something else that really affects me, is the plastic pollution.

All the plastic waste, both on the bottom of the sea as well as the pieces floating on the open sea; it just doesn’t belong there. Even though I really love spending time by the oceanside, or practicing diving, at times it upsets me to be at the beach. I see people throwing trash into the water like there’s nothing wrong with that.

On top of the negative effect plastic has on the marine environment, it also has implications for human health. In recent research, plastic was discovered in fish in the form of microplastics. Fish we consume.

“The most confronting thing for me to witness was when I found a 9 meter sperm whale with close to 6 kgs of plastic in its stomach. It still makes me sad to think about how it was humans that did this to him.”
Tika Sumolang

Although the deteriorating state of the ocean deeply concerns me, I do stay positive; looking forward. I would like to change people’s perception so they realise how damaging plastic is, and instead of harming it, they will take care of the sea.

 

That sounds great. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you contribute to a healthier ocean and inspire others to take care of the marine environment?

Since 2015, I’ve been working with the local youth from Wakatobi Island. From a shared passion for the ocean and earth, we built a community called KAMELIA. This stands for ‘Komunitas Melihat Alam’, which means something similar to ‘See The Nature – community’. This community aims to involve local people in projects to increase their awareness of the planet they are living on.

We have organized many activities so far. In 2016 we were involved in coral reef monitoring and from 2016 we’ve also been organizing an annual event called ‘Earth Day’. On Earth Day we activate people to take better care of their environment by organizing beach clean-ups and inviting the local government to gain support for our activities.

 

In 2030, what does the ocean look like according to you?

I have good hope for a healthier ocean in 2030. An example that makes me optimistic is the work we’ve done in Wakatobi. The Wakatobi waters have been appointed migration areas for some characteristic marine species, such as turtles, sharks and whales. So by taking conservation measures in Wakatobi National Park, I hope that by 2030, we won’t lose those Endangered, Threatened or Protected (ETP) species in the ocean.

Another achievement I think will make a huge difference by 2030, is a shark protection measure: one of the most popular diving sites in Wakatobi, called Nua Shark Point located south of Sombu, Wangi-Wangi, has been identified as an important shark habitat. It has now been appointed as a Marine Protected Area (MPA) for Sharks by the Sombu village and local communities. Here, we encourage wiser management of this diving point. By protecting critical habitats for reproduction and feeding, MPAs can play an important role in the conservation of shark populations.

WWF Indonesia is collaborating with local governments and communities because we believe in joining forces for a good cause. Together we can organise programs that result in increased livelihood security and a healthier ocean in the future.

Thanks for sharing your story Tika, you’re an Ocean Witness now. What do you want to say to other Ocean Witnesses?

We start from passion and commitment to save the earth, let it continue. We witness that the earth needs our help; let us be the helping hand!

“The ocean, for me, is one more reason to be thankful for the beauty of the earth.”
Tika Sumolang

And if you would give one tip to the reader at home about how they can contribute to a healthier ocean in the future, what would it be?  

I would have two main tips, and the first one is very simple: do not throw garbage in the sea or anywhere other than where it should go – in the garbage bin.

And secondly, if you buy fish, try to pay attention to its size. Do not consume shark fins and other parts of sharks, sea turtles, as well as other protected and endangered species. Fishermen that make a living from the sea should be wise in their fishing practices, for example by using a net of the right size and no fishing equipment that is not environmentally friendly.

About Tika

Tika is 40 years old and lives in Wakatobi, on the south-east of the Indonesian island Sulawesi. She loves diving and spending time with her daughter and family.

When she was just a little girl, she had a neighbor that conducted research on butterflies for WWF. So fascinated by the WWF team always travelling to the forests by car, instead of working behind a desk in an office, she knew she wanted to work for WWF as well. A few years later, she works as an MPA and Biodiversity Officer Program at the Southern East Sulawesi Subseascape (SESS), WWF Indonesia. In this role, she supports efficient management of MPA’s, especially in the fields of fisheries, habitat protection and fish spawning areas.

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Tika

Wakatobi, Sulawesi

Living and working on an island, Tika has noticed the deteriorating state of the ocean. Determined to protect it, Tika works with WWF and is part of Kamelia, a community committed to making a positive change.