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Wetlands and its communities: The story of Yus – an advocate for coastal conservation

Published on:
  • Coastal resilience
  • Coastal wetland conservation

“I am very passionate about working with local communities as I believe it is a fundamental aspect for achieving conservation goals, contribute to communities’ well-being, and ensure programme sustainability.” Yus, Programme Manager for Wetlands International.

As a partnership-led initiative, Mangroves for the Future (MFF) relies strongly on its regional network of partners. This includes government organisations, private sector companies and civil society organisations, working synergistically to achieve long-term and sustainable coastal ecosystem management. Without the commitment of its partner organisations and the people that drive them, MFF would not have been able to deliver the coastal conservation results it has achieved in the region.

In the first of a series of stories celebrating and honouring the people who have been instrumental in contributing to coastal conservation, MFF spoke with Yus Rusila Noor – Programme Manager for Mangroves and Climate Change for Wetlands International, an MFF partner organisation in Indonesia.

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Yus Rusila Noor in front of the ranger office at Sembilang National Park, South Sumatra. Image by Yus Rusila Noor

When Yus began his journey in conservation over 30 years ago, he was clear and unwavering about his passion for conservation. He understood from the very start that natural resources provide what is necessary for humans to thrive and contribute to the economy of their communities and countries.

An ornithologist by craft and wetlands conservation specialist by trade, Yus’s experience in working on conservation in various parts of Indonesia and the region has endowed him with a broad perspective on the coastal conservation environment in Indonesia – making him a prominent figure in MFF’s programme in the country.

Yus became involved in conservation work at a very early age. Passionate about birds, Yus studied Ornithology and conducted a waterbirds study for his undergraduate thesis back in 1987. After getting his degree, he joined Wetlands International and slowly worked his way up to becoming the head of the organisation’s Ornithology Department – a role that gave Yus the opportunity to be directly involved in migratory waterbirds work over five continents.

In 2000, Yus started working on community development, particularly in relation to sustainable use of natural resources in and surrounding wetlands. According to Yus, one of the challenges facing sustainable wetlands management in Indonesia is poverty. Due to the absence of affordable alternative resources, local communities are forced to use wetlands resources in an unsustainable manner. The provision of sustainable alternative livelihoods is essential in order to ensure that local communities are fully involved in the maintenance and restoration of wetland ecosystems.

“We must raise awareness about the importance of protecting our wetlands as the destruction of these ecosystems will destroy the future of local communities. We also need to in parallel convince local communities that restoring wetlands is crucial for improving their livelihoods,” says Yus. 

A central part of MFF’s work is in offering strategic support and providing countries with the right information to guide them on the development of national coastal development policies. Much of this information can be acquired from local communities, as they possess very precise knowledge of ecosystem functioning at small spatial scales. Through community groups, MFF also strives to encourage community networking to build participatory mangrove and coastal resource management capacity.

Having worked in the field since 1985, Yus has established an excellent rapport with local communities. His experience includes supervising field facilitators, working with local communities, and establishing various community-based wetlands restoration works. In his capacity as project manager for the resilience programme for Wetlands International, Yus has also played a key role in bringing local knowledge and perspectives of local communities to the national and global stages.

Local community group members at Siduwonge village, Gorontalo Province, Northern Sulawesi. Image by Yus Rusila Noor

I am very passionate about working with local communities as I believe it is a fundamental aspect for achieving conservation goals, contribute to communities’ well-being, and ensure programme sustainability,” explains Yus. “Working with local communities has also helped me on my journey of personal growth. Instead of us systematically sharing our knowledge with the communities in a top-down manner, I realised that we can actually learn a lot more from the communities. They have a wealth of knowledge, especially on issues such as sustainable wetlands management, which in many cases is very compatible with modern science.”

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Yus visiting Darat Pantai Village, Flores Island, East Nusa Tenggara. Image by Wetlands International, Indonesia

Since MFF was initiated in Indonesia in 2006, a total of 30 Small Grant Facility projects, 1 Medium Grant Facility project, and 1 Large Grant Facility project have been implemented. 

“Due to the nature of the programme, which is action-oriented at field level, MFF provides real, tangible solutions, and encourages local communities to conduct the type of local initiatives that would help them obtain sustainable solutions to challenges. In this regard, the programme has definitely helped address some of Indonesia’s most pertinent coastal challenges,” said Yus. “MFF effectively provides opportunities for communities to communicate with one another to develop joint sustainable livelihood activities.” 

An elder from Siduwonge village being photographed by an MFF Secretariat Staff. Image by Yus Rusila Noor

As Wetland’s International’s gender focal point for MFF, Yus is also responsible for ensuring that project implementation at field level is in compliance with gender balance principles. 

“Besides ensuring that women are involved in activities, I also ensure that the decision-making process involves all members of the communities.”  

Thus far, Yus enjoys his work and is positive about the benefits that MFF brings. When asked about how the programme could be improved, Yus said, “MFF could consider working closely with other initiatives to ensure the sustainability of joint investments at a local level. In addition, there needs to be more exposure for MFF’s work in Indonesia, both at national and sub-national levels, and it needs to be closely linked to conservation policy and advocacy work. This will ensure that the current available resources will effectively contribute to the development of Indonesia’s policies on sustainable mangrove and coastal management.” 

When asked about his conservation goals, Yus says, “My short-term conservation goal is to contribute to the maintenance and restoration of wetlands and their biodiversity. My long-term conservation goal is to ensure that wetlands are used wisely and restored, for the role they play in improving human well-being and local livelihoods, conserving biodiversity, sustaining the water cycle and reducing climate change and its impacts. These are also the goals of Wetlands International.”

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A calm early morning at the Bajo Sea-dweller village of Torsiaje, Gorontalo, where Yus makes frequent monitoring trips to. Image by Yus Rusila Noor