Wakatobi Regency in Southeast Sulawesi is famous for its ocean panorama, but waste, especially plastic, haunts it. “Poassa Nuhada”, a group of local ecotourists, seeks to address the problem by instilling an awareness of waste threats and educating local communities on how to address this issue from an early age.
Wakatobi is an acronym for the four major islands in the region; Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko. Since 2002, 1.3 million hectares in the region have been designated as a Marine National Park.
The beauty of the ocean panorama with its 750 coral reef species, about 80% of the world’s coral reefs, makes Wakatobi dubbed “Real Paradise in the Heart of the World Coral Triangle Center. The area is also included in the 10 priority tourist destinations launched by President Joko Widodo in 2014.
However, waste has long threatened Wakatobi’s beauty. In addition to waste generated by its own inhabitants, it also receives garbage from outside the islands, even from overseas.
According to data from the Wakatobi environment office, in 2020 waste accumulation reached 45 tons per day. Around 30%-40% was plastic waste.
The impact is truly alarming. In addition to disrupting residents’ lives, plastic waste also affects marine life. One of the most shocking incidents was the discovery of 5.9 kg of plastic waste in the body of a sperm whale found dead stranded in Kapota Village, Wakatobi, in 2018.
Real action is needed to reduce pollution in Wakatobi’s waters and coasts. This is where Poassa Nuhada comes in.
“We see a lot of trash scattered on the beaches, and this makes us uneasy. “Garbage spoils the beauty of the Wakatobi landscape, but it’s also harmful to the marine ecosystem in it,” Nyong Tomia, chairman of Poassa Nuhada said on February 16, 2023.
Breaking down the habit
Poassa Nuhada, consisting of nine members, was established in 2013. Together they manage an ecotourism area in Kulati Village, East Tomia Sub-district.
In 2018, Poassa Nuhada began collaborating with Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara (YKAN) to find a solution. They began to record the amount of waste in coastal areas and where it came from.
The data they obtained showed that apart from those from outside the region, many local islanders still treat the ocean like a big dump site. To break the habit, Poassa Nuhada decided to educate local children about environmental and waste management.
“Poassa Nuhada believes that environmentally friendly characteristics are easier to instill among elementary school children than adults. In addition, primary school students can help socialize these actions with their family at home,” Nyong Tomia said.
Their first step was to communicate with the education office and elementary school principals in Wakatobi. Permission was obtained and in 2018 they began educating students in elementary schools.
They focused on environmental education and waste management in the East Tomia sub-district because of its easy access. Currently, nine elementary schools in East Tomia are targeted by the Poassa Nuhada program.
Poassa Nuhada teaches in two ways. First, they present material about the impact of waste on Wakatobi’s oceans. Students are encouraged to discuss waste eradication issues and solutions and then taught how to sort and manage plastic waste into useful items.
Second, they play environmental-themed games in the classroom. In one instance, they designed a snakes and ladders game using pictures and text with messages about actions to protect or damage the environment.
Another game they were taught was ekobrik (eco brick). Students were invited to compete in building miniature buildings using plastic waste.
“I really liked the environmental lessons in class when Poassa Nuhada visited us,” said Inkaros, a grade 6 student at the state primary school, Negeri Kulati, East Tomia, on March 21, 2023. “They taught me about waste management and plastic’s impact on our environment. The most fun part was when my classmates and I played the Snakes and Ladders game because I could learn while playing.”
According to a teacher at Negeri Kulati, La Ode Darmawan, Poassa Nuhada’s education model is effective.
“I witnessed that after receiving environmental education, the students started to care about the environment around them. They even reminded their parents to stop using plastic bags when shopping at the market,” La Ode Darmawan said on March 19, 2023.
The Wakatobi environment office sees the community’s activities as a first step in helping the government tackle the waste problem.
“What communities have done, including Poassa Nuhada, can reduce marine waste and help the government tackle this waste problem. I hope the environmental education model can be applied not only in elementary schools but also at the early childhood education level,” said Agu S.Sos, head of the environment division in the Wakatobi environment office.
Agu ensures that the Wakatobi administration will continue to support community groups that seek solutions to environmental problems, including marine waste.
Nyong Tomia believes the Poassa Nuhada program can have a positive impact on environmental protection efforts, especially in building awareness from an early age. He acknowledges the education model introduced by the organisation. This has been accepted in schools and several youth organizations conduct similar activities on other islands in Wakatobi.
Poassa Nuhada’s next goal, according to Nyong, is to apply the model to higher education levels throughout the Wakatobi region.
“Poassa Nuhada also hopes that environmental education can become mandatory in Wakatobi,” said Nyong, who is also one of YKAN’s Nature Heroes.
In addition to its activities in schools, Poassa Nuhada currently conducts waste clean-ups in coastal areas and educates the public about the impact of marine waste through informal discussions.