Laut Community iLab was designed and trialed at Rote Island in Indonesia. [Image: Sarah Lewis]

Laut Community iLab: Building Community Resilience Through Innovation

Indonesia Asia

Laut Community iLab is a tool to tackle marine and coastal environmental issues, by incorporating local community knowledge and empowerment into innovative new ideas. The idea began when a colleague and I found that our focus and work in marine conservation face similar issues and concerns. With affiliated NGOs focusing in the Savu Sea region of East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia, and alumni of East West Center; they decided to combine their experiences and knowledge of the marine world and what they had learned from their fellowship, to start a collaborative project. And so, the first prototype of Laut Community iLab was designed and trialed at Rote Island in Indonesia.

Our main concern was with the unsustainable fisheries activities conducted by both local and foreign fishermen around Rote Island. We thought we needed a different approach towards tackling the issue as every community is different in its own way, and it would be ideal to design a prototype catered to each community. We designed our first iLab session to involve different stakeholders and had them discuss the issue and design prototypes with us. Rather than presenting them with a clear-cut solution, our aim was to design, test, fail, and learn. Additionally, we socialized the stakeholders about the marine protected area surrounding Rote Island, sustainable fisheries and fair-trade.

After careful consideration, we decided to design a Responsible Seafood Subscription program, which is a platform that accommodates fishermen who produce sustainable fisheries products and connect them to potential buyers, offering the market with fair-trade and transparency in buying seafood. Together, we designed the criteria for the seafood products, including recommended sustainable species to catch, fishing methods, and fishing grounds. Quality control is done via a mobile chat group where the fishermen post about their daily available catch (species, weight, and price) and any interested buyer can just message the fishermen their names, which fish and where to deliver or pick up the product.

During the trial, the design continued to change according to different circumstances. We had a week of bad weather during which we were unable to start the trial. Some buyers changed their minds on the price agreement. Although currently the prototype is not running like we first designed it, to our knowledge the fishermen we’ve worked with are still following our advice and we are still getting messages of interest from the tourism industry to be part of our program. The challenges we faced were valuable learning experiences for both the stakeholders and for us, and we are excited to further our work and continue to build innovative mindsets and a resilient community.

Nesha Ichida is a marine conservation field officer based in Rote Island for Indonesia Manta Project and 2018 YSEALI Academic Fellowship Program at East-West Center, United States.