In Indonesia, a country of more than 17,000 islands, brave fishers face dangerous conditions at sea every day. With the help of the Fisherman Weather Field School, a project under the UN Ocean Decade Observing Together programme, they are learning to use ocean information to protect themselves and even save lives in their communities.
On the 2nd of April in 2021, Muhammad Mansur Dokeng was getting ready to go out to sea with his fellow fishermen in the village of Oesapa, Indonesia. The group had already set off to their fishing grounds, when suddenly Mr. Dokeng noticed some subtle, yet worrying signs. The wind was strong, and the fisherman could feel the ocean currents acting unusually below the surface of the boat. “Nature seemed different,” he said.
Concerned about these unusual conditions, the fishermen came back to shore early. As soon as they got on land, Mr. Dokeng grabbed a cell phone and logged onto a weather application provided by the Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics of the Republic of Indonesia (BMKG). What he saw there was a large tropical cyclone moving towards the village.
Mr. Dokeng instantly spread the message about the potentially dangerous conditions ahead to other fishers and the whole village of Oesapa. The fishers canceled their trips, secured their boats and equipment, and the villagers were evacuated from their coastal homes to move towards higher ground and take refuge.
The forecast and the fisherman were right, and the next day a severe tropical cyclone Seroja hit the coast, killing 272 people and causing almost US $500 million damage. But the villagers of Oesapa stayed safe, thanks to the timely action taken by Mansur Dokeng. The situation could have ended much worse if not for the training the fisherman obtained from the Indonesian Fisherman Weather Field School.
A fisherman in Indonesia
Applying, appreciating and assessing ocean information
The Fisherman Weather Field School is a project carried out by the BMKG and endorsed by the UN Ocean Decade under the Global Ocean Observing System’s (GOOS) Observing Together programme. It aims to bridge the gap between ocean data and users in local fishing communities, improving ocean literacy and enabling fishers to use ocean and weather information in their daily activities.
“Extreme weather events are increasing. In Indonesia, many activities take place in the ocean and coastal areas, and it is important for fishers to apply knowledge about the ocean and weather patterns when they go to work,” says Nelly Florida Riama, Director of the BMKG Center of Education and Training.
The Indonesian Fisherman Weather Field School works to ensure the fishers’ easy access to weather forecasts and, most importantly, teaches how to interpret and apply this information to improve their safety. The educators of the project have already visited 159 coastal communities and provided practical classes on analyzing and using data from ocean and weather observations to more than 10,000 fishers and other locals that carry out activities at sea.
“During our classes, we also educate people about the importance of the instruments used to obtain these observations,” says Dava Amrina, Project Manager of the Fisherman Weather Field School. “For example, drifters – instruments that float on the ocean’s surface collecting observations – quite often get caught in fishing nets, and before this often meant losing valuable data. Now our alumni know how important it is to inform the BMKG about such encounters and return these instruments.”
In addition, as end-users of ocean observing data, the fishers who participated in the project play an important role in assessing this data and providing feedback. “When they are back to shore, the fishers can connect to the internet and fill in their own sea state observations such as wind speed or wave height,” says Dava Amrina. These observations are then used by the BMKG to verify their forecasts and further improve predictive models that are used to create them.
Educators of the Fisherman Weather Field School on board a fishing boat (Credit: BMKG)
Sharing experiences to expand impact
Having ocean information and the ability to apply it can help reduce risky situations and even save lives, as shown by Mansur Dokeng, an alumni of the Fisherman Weather Field School. “Now, we are not just trying to understand the sea based on our instinct, but from the information provided,” says Dokeng, and adds he wishes more fishers would be able to join the Field School.
Through the Observing Together Programme, GOOS and BMKG are aiming to transfer the model of the Indonesian Fisherman Weather Field School to other coastal communities around the world. “We want to share our experience, so that not only Indonesian fishermen would benefit from ocean information,” says Nelly Florida Riama.
Across the world, developing countries struggle with many similar issues when it comes to both establishing ocean monitoring networks and ensuring ocean information is accessible to local users. The GOOS Observing Together programme seeks to transform ocean data access and availability by connecting ocean observers and the communities they serve through enhanced support to both new and existing community-scale projects. This way, valuable ocean information can be used not only by global and regional climate centers, but also by local users who can benefit from near real–time access.
“It’s fantastic to see what the Fisherman Weather Field School has accomplished. Through Observing Together, we aim to share lessons and to help strengthen and scale activities from successful projects like these,” says Molly Powers-Tora, co-chair of the Observing Together programme based at the Pacific Community (SPC) in Suva, Fiji. “Support for such projects provides an opportunity for capacity development in communities that cannot access data in a format they could use, and allows to expand the societal value of ocean observations.”
An educator of the Fisherman Weather Field School with Indonesian fishermen (Credit: BMKG)
As extreme weather events are becoming more and more frequent due to climate change, enabling coastal communities around the world to evaluate risks and act in time to mitigate the damages from weather disasters has never been more important.
“The UN Ocean Decade is not just about cutting edge ocean research or the latest ocean models. It’s a decade of science for sustainable development – science for people,” says Powers-Tora. “Around the world, millions of people rely on the ocean for their lives and livelihoods, but they don’t have access to essential information. Programmes like Observing Together help us draw attention and resources to improve these connections, and put ocean data, forecasts, and predictions into the hands of those who need it most.”
The article was developed as part of a series of stories under the theme “Ocean observing for safer communities”. Read our previous story on tropical cyclone forecasting here.
The Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) is the global home of ocean observing expertise. We lead and support a community of international, regional and national ocean observing programmes, governments, UN agencies, research organizations and individual scientists. Our Core Team of expert panels, networks, alliances and projects, supported by the GOOS Office, is in touch with ocean observing and forecasting around the world. We are a programme led by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, with UN and science co-sponsors: World Meteorological Organization (WMO), UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the International Science Council (ISC).
The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO) promotes international cooperation in marine sciences to improve management of the ocean, coasts and marine resources. The IOC enables its 150 Member States to work together by coordinating programmes in capacity development, ocean observations and services, ocean science and tsunami warning. The work of the IOC contributes to the mission of UNESCO to promote the advancement of science and its applications to develop knowledge and capacity, key to economic and social progress, the basis of peace and sustainable development.
About the Ocean Decade:
Proclaimed in 2017 by the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) (‘the Ocean Decade’) seeks to stimulate ocean science and knowledge generation to reverse the decline of the state of the ocean system and catalyse new opportunities for sustainable development of this massive marine ecosystem. The vision of the Ocean Decade is ‘the science we need for the ocean we want’. The Ocean Decade provides a convening framework for scientists and stakeholders from diverse sectors to develop the scientific knowledge and the partnerships needed to accelerate and harness advances in ocean science to achieve a better understanding of the ocean system and deliver science-based solutions to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The UN General Assembly mandated UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) to coordinate the preparations and implementation of the Decade.