Blast Fishing in the Spermonde Archipelago

Spermonde Archipelago, surrounded by 400,000 hectares of coastal waters, is home to the largest coral reef and fishing industry in Indonesia. However, the introduction of blast fishing in 1939 has caused coral reefs to decline, threatening the tourism industry. Although illegal, blast fishing is a widespread fishing technique in which bombs are strategically placed in the water to target schools of fish. Once the fish are either killed or stunned, they are manually retrieved by the fishermen. First introduced in World War II by Japanese soldiers who possessed an abundant supply of dynamite, Indonesian fishermen currently make these bombs at home from glass or plastic bottles using a 3:1 ratio of fertilizer to kerosene. Its popularity spread by word of mouth as a cheap, simple, and productive fishing method. Blast fishing may be economically productive up front, but the long-term economic costs that arise from reef destruction are detrimental. Sulawesi’s biodiversity hotspot is a major tourist destination, but with blast fishing destroying corals and creating dead zones, 75 percent of the reef has since been destroyed, leaving behind an outlook of further biodiversity and economic loss.

Contributed by Sophie Bernstein
Course: Global Environmental History
Instructor: Andrew Stuhl, Ph.D.
Bucknell University Lewisburg, US

Further Readings: 
  • Herman Cesar, “Indonesian Coral Reefs: A Precious but Threatened Resource,” in Coral Reefs: Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Management, ed. Marea Hatziolos et. Al. (Washington D.C.: The World Bank, 1998): 163-171.
  • Moberg and Folke “Ecological goods and services of coral reef ecosystems,” in Ecological Economics 29 (May 1999): 215-233. DOI: 10.1016/S0921-9009(99)00009-9. Science Direct.
  • Richmond “Coral Reefs: Present Problems and Future Concerns Resulting from Anthropogenic Disturbance,” in American Zoologist 33 (1993): 523-536.
  • Soede, Cesar, and J. S. Pet. “An Economic Analysis of Blast Fishing on Indonesian Coral Reefs,” in Environmental Conservation 26 (1999): 83-93.