Coastal Communities Resource Centers take root

Earth Island News

Mangrove Action Project

The coastal area of North Sulawesi in Indonesia is famous for its world-class diving among the coral reefs off Bunaken National Park. Less famous but equally important are the area’s world-class mangrove forests. The mangrove forests of Indonesia, among the largest in the world, account for 67.7 percent of total mangrove acreage in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region. Overdevelopment of the shores has led to an alarming rate of destruction of the mangrove cover, as huge tracts of land are cleared for community development, resort hotels, golf courses, or extensive prawn farms.

But one new development promises to help reduce human impact on the last remaining intact mangrove forests in Indonesia. The Mangrove Action Project (MAP) has recently broken ground on its newest Coastal Community Center in Tiwoho, located a few kilometers northeast of Manado in North Sulawesi. Project Coordinator and MAP’s Indonesian Office Director Ben Brown is overseeing the construction of this unique building to ensure the project is in tune with MAP’s ideal of minimizing environmental impact and promoting sustainable development.

The two-story bamboo structure features an open-air amphitheater for hosting meetings and presentations, a library and resource center, and small- scale dining facilities. Located on a 1.2-acre tract of land, the center presents a broad spectrum of coastal conservation concepts and ideas to Tiwoho’s villagers and visitors. The new center, which will be operated jointly with local NGO Yayasan Kelola, is being built with funding by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Foundation, Seacology, Coral Reef Alliance and the Netherlands World Conservation Union (NC-IUCN).

Brown reports the center is an excellent model of the sustainable development MAP promotes. When construction began, MAP’s Executive Director Alfredo Quarto expressed concern that the plans did not specifically address the handling of wastewater. After reviewing various alternatives, including pressurized septic tanks, composting and other water treatment processes, MAP and Kelola selected a method called Wastewater Gardens, developed by the Biosphere Foundation for use in Biosphere2, and adapted for Indonesia by the Planetary Coral Reef Foundation. These wastewater gardens are small-scale mock-ups of wetlands, using microbes and plants to clean the water. Wastewater Gardens are an ecological, low cost, low maintenance solution to the problem of human waste. With no mechanical or moving parts and no chemicals, all wastewater is recycled via a gravity system into elegant, biodiverse gardens that produce lovely flowers, produce that can be eaten by people, and fodder for animals. The systems are carefully sealed so that no wastewater contaminates the soil, ground water or coastal waters.

Wastewater Gardens have been successfully installed in Mexico, Bali, the Bahamas, Belize, France, Poland, the Philippines, the US, and Australia. To date, the largest Wastewater Garden installed is located in the Xpu-Ha EcoPark near Akumal, Mexico, which recycles all the human waste produced by up to 1,500 visitors a day. (For more information on Wastewater Gardens, see

Creative construction

Foundation footings for the center are nearly completed, and the bamboo for construction is being soaked in a solution of boric acid and borax under carefully monitored conditions to make it insect- and rot-resistant. This environmentally benign process may serve as a source of income for the CCRC and the surrounding community, as the demand for treated bamboo is high. A significant order for Tiwoho’s treated bamboo has already been placed from Bali. The Environmental Bamboo Foundation has assisted MAP/Kelola in developing a treatment facility near the CCRC to begin processing bamboo. With help from the Bamboo Foundation, MAP and Kelola will have a working demonstration project on harvesting and treating bamboo for use in low cost, environmental construction projects.

This emphasis on sustainable building materials has caught the attention of experts on bamboo construction for community development. The Bamboo Foundation has invited Dr. Jörg Stamm to Bali and Timor for two bamboo construction workshops in 2003. The construction team from the CCRC has been invited to the Timor workshop to study Dr. Stamm’s methods and develop a partnership to create future centers in other locations.

Spreading the idea

The highest quality construction bamboo and mangroves share common habitats and the sustainable harvest of bamboo is more easily adopted by locals than selective logging of hardwoods has been. This would indicate an acceptance of the practice that will prevent over-harvesting of bamboo. “Clump” harvested bamboo can yield 200 harvests before replanting. Environmental uses of bamboo in sustainable projects such as this may lead to further preservation of coastal ecosystems by decreasing erosion, reducing the sedimentation of coral reefs, and reducing the demand for mangrove wood used in construction. MAP is proud to be part of this movement towards a sustainable future.

The center in Tiwoho is one of several MAP hopes to build in the coming years. MAP is working with with Seacology Prize winner Anuradha Wickramasinghe of the Small Fishers Federation in maintaining two centers in Sri Lanka. In addition, MAP is planning new centers in critical regions such as India, Honduras and Nigeria, where local NGOs have already begun the process of establishing centers of their own. Each center will serve as a regional node, housing information related to each area’s coastal ecology. In addition, each center will promote the sustainable use of mangrove forests, coral reefs, and their related flora and fauna by hosting workshops and creating demonstration projects related to coastal wetlands conservation. MAP looks forward to developing this network of information and working models available to interested groups, as well as promoting the rights of local people.

Sam Nugent, the administrative director for the Mangrove Action Project, lives in Port Angeles, Washington. He will lead a tour of 12 students to visit the Mangrove Center in Pambala, Sri Lanka in January 2003, to replant mangroves, and to study the effects of shrimp farming on mangrove forests in the region.

Take Action: contact the Mangrove Action Project at PO Box 1854, Port Angeles, WA 98362, (360) 452-5866, email at or visit

Get the Journal in your inbox.
Sign up for our monthly newsletter.

Subscribe Now

For $15 you can get four issues of the magazine, a 50 percent savings off the newsstand rate.