The first step was taken in 2000, while Rili was the Country Director for The Nature Conservancy’s Indonesia Marine Program (TNC-IMP). The Coral Triangle Center was founded under the auspices of TNC, an international environmental organization that also works on land and freshwater conservation all over the world. The idea was that the new department would narrow the organization’s much broader scope to concentrate on the region’s reefs. Another aim was to encourage ever closer relations with people and organizations in the Coral Triangle countries, and ultimately to harness the tremendous knowledge, potential, and vitality of those who lived and worked in the region.
It was not difficult to find others who shared this vision. An early champion was George Tahija, at the time a member of TNC’s advisory board for Indonesia. Mr. Tahija, who has an almost lyrical affinity for nature, crucially shared the conviction that the strengths of modern marine management and scientific approaches needed to be transferred to local actors. He was also one of those who recognized the need for CTC’s autonomy, when it became apparent that its goals could be better accomplished as an independent local organization. This step towards independence was fully supported by The Nature Conservancy, who provided foundational funding support and transitional periods to enable the CTC to become a standalone entity.
Through such support, and with a small team in place ready to step into the roles needed for the independent organization, Mr. Tahija, together with Mr. Hasyim Djalal, who for many years had served Indonesia as a diplomat, and Mr. Made Subadia, a top Indonesian conservation official, founded CTC as an independent Indonesian foundation (known as a ‘yayasan’) in 2010. Scientists of international renown and representatives of all six Coral Triangle nations were drafted into the new foundation’s boards.
Even before its life as a new organization officially started, CTC worked towards one of the most significant developments in the area: the six nation agreement called ‘The Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security’ (CTI-CFF). Mr. Johannes Subijanto, our Deputy Executive Director, worked alongside Rili and others from across different organizations in the Coral Triangle countries to bring about this unprecedented partnership, which launched just one year before CTC itself. Five years later, in 2014, we became the CTI–CFF’s first new partner since its launch, the only locally-based organization to join international giants such as Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, and the World Wide Fund for Nature.
Our work for the Coral Triangle Initiative reflects the main goals of our activities: teaching people from as many backgrounds as possible how to best act for the preservation of reefs; educating all those who benefit from healthy reefs on how their own interests are connected to the reefs’ best interest; helping build connections between all those who depend on, live close to, and love the reefs; collecting all knowledge that serves the reefs and those working with and for them; empowering local communities to draw on modern knowledge and traditional resource management practices to preserve the reefs as the source of their own well-being and survival.
Having set up these programs, our next big step is to build a state-of-the- art learning complex and conference center, to be known as the ‘Regional Hub’. Here, we also seek to build bridges: the center will house an exhibition open to the public, where visitors can find in-depth knowledge about the Coral Triangle, its marine environment, and its people, and learn about the dangers that haunt them as well as about available solutions. The center is projected to attract 100,000 visitors a year and to generate about $1 million USD/year, bringing us close to financial self-sustainability.
This seems like a tall order, but in less than six years we have forged ahead and have already had notable successes: we have trained more than 2,100 marine practitioners from across the region, and have designed training courses that are sensitive to the needs of various geographies and participants. We have connected people, communities, and organizations to share issues, solutions, and knowledge. We have spoken to people and organizations with no interest in coral reefs and transformed them into active allies working for reef health. The ‘Hub’, which will be the linchpin for our future activities, has already passed through initial concept design, and the land on which it will be built in Bali has been donated by Mr. Tahija.
In 2010, when we began as an independent entity, we had just 5 employees. In 2016 we have 27 employees and a strong network of hundreds of collaborators from the Coral Triangle and beyond. We have worked with governments, academic institutions, communities and community organizations, local and international businesses, NGOs.
It is this aspect of our work that gives us faith for the future: since our work started, we have witnessed the power and beauty of human resilience, enthusiasm, and the strength of people connected by the desire to serve the sea that is the very foundation of life on our planet.