If the mangrove forest had not been destroyed, this would not be our fate. “Our hopes and dreams grow here,” said Sonhaji, a resident of Kampung Beting, Pantai Bahagia Village, Muara Gembong District, Bekasi Regency, West Java.
The 35-year-old man often lowers his head when talking about his hometown. There is no smile on his face. His eyes were blank towards the beach on that afternoon.
There is a strong reason why he cares so much about the coast, where he depends on his hope. He and the villagers were once proud of the nickname Kampung Beting as Kampung Dollar, 20 years ago. “The pond income can reach 10 million within a week,” said Sonhaji, who has a two-hectare pond.
1998 was the beginning of a setback as the storm of the monetary crisis came. During this period, the Muara Gembong area underwent a function change. The economic downturn marks the destruction of the coast.
“Mangrove forests are being cleared for the expansion of new ponds. However, due to their uncontrolled measures, the ponds did not last for long. Many ponds are left neglected, ”he said.
Over time, environmental damage made the residents of Kampung Beting familiar with disasters, especially floods and abrasion.
For most of the year, houses in Kampung Beting are inundated by tidal flooding due to the tide of the Java Sea. The problem can increase during the rainy season.
Muara Gembong, which is located at the northern tip of Bekasi Regency, is the last place where the Citarum River streams to anchor. This 300 kilometer river often overflows.
“Floods from Citarum always carry trash and chemical waste that have a strong smell,” added Sonhaji.
Meanwhile, the rate of abrasion in Pantai Bahagia Village is a serious problem. “Initially, our house was far from the shoreline, about five kilometers. Now, it is only about one kilometer, he explained.
Ghofur (52) said the same thing. He has tasted the sweetness of life in this village even though he is not a native of Muara Gembong. 15 years ago, he left Indramayu Regency to try his luck as a shrimp farmer.
“My wish to own a pond was achieved. The area is about one hectare. However, it only lasted a few years, before going out of business due to abrasion and contamination of Citarum water, ”he added, early November.
The damage to the environment has made some residents leave the village, although not a few have survived. Sumiati (59), for example, chose to stay.
Despite the economic difficulties, this grandmother of three grandchildren is still trying to repair her house which has begun to collapse due to the mud. “Not to mention the flood from the river overflow, it can submerge for days,” he said.
It has been 15 years, Sumiati has been languishing. The burden of life has become heavier. She has to spend around Rp.70,000 per month just to buy refill water. “In fact, in the past, there was no need to bother meeting clean water needs,” he said
The environmental damage that has occurred has made Sonhaji not to be silent anymore. He wants to return the lost mangroves.
In 2013, the man who graduated from junior high school founded the Happy Happy Youth Alliance (Alipbata), in response to overcoming the adverse effects of the devastation.
Although limited funds and knowledge have become obstacles, this positive activity continues.
Consistently, Alipbata, which is fronted by village youth, has made environmental improvements. Five years on, around 200 thousand mangroves have been planted in his village.
“We have financial support and training. Now, our village is slowly starting to be promoted as an educational tour for mangroves, “he said.
Sonhaji is aware that the benefits of coastal ecosystems are not only for mangroves to be preserved, but also in managing them, for example, tourism to improve the local economy or how mangroves resist abrasion.
“However, this step is actually being taken because we need a land. So all the movements that have been carried out are aimed for the sustainability of our lives, “he explained.
Apart from planting mangroves, Alipbata also has a mission to provide sanitation facilities for local residents. Important steps must be fulfilled in order to create a healthy environmental conditions.
Indonesia in 2012 has issued Presidential Regulation Number 73 concerning the National Strategy for Mangrove Ecosystem Management, which mandated the establishment of a National Mangrove Working Group (KKMN). Hopefully, this step will be beneficial for us, “he said.
Ahmad Qurtubi, a community leader in Muara Gembong, hopes that the planting of mangroves that has been carried out will build community of independence to protect the environmental ecosystem.
“Mangroves are not only a barrier to the rate of abrasion but also a place for birds and other wildlife to live. It also include the future of our life, “he said.
Based on data from Perum Perhutani, the manager of this area, natural mangroves in Muara Gembong which covers an area of 10,481.15 hectares were badly damaged.
Most of this area, 93.5 percent, which is less affected by the tides, has been encroached by the community as fishponds and agricultural land.
The Muara Gembong mangrove forest area is a series of mangrove ecosystems on the north coast of Jakarta Bay, from Tanjung Pasir in Tangerang, Banten, to Ujung Karawang.
Population density and economic pressures resulted in the destruction of the Muara Gembong mangrove for various reasons of interest.