OCEAN SPECIAL EDITION
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC INDONESIA, MAY 2021
Nationalgeographic.co.id—Our seas are plagued with endless list of problems, from the ocean waste to biota extinction threat. But at the eastern seas of the Indonesian archipelago, there is still hope for the earth and its inhabitants.
I did not meet these extraordinary people on purpose. It must have been fate. I feel Rajaampat was calling me. There, I witnessed so many miracles: on how God had entrusted the earth's paradise to humankind and set their life mission. These are the stories of those who are chosen to guard this planet.
I had the opportunity to get to know Konstantinus Saleo—27 years old— same age as me. He is a conservationist in West Yensawai, Batanta Island, Rajaampat Islands. I was listening a heroic stories about his father, Leonard Saleo, who died protecting the natural resources in his area.
He was known by the locals as the “Father of Conservation in Rajaampat.” He died on illegal logger hands after machete fight and end up by a spear. His death brought grief and sorrow throughout the island. This is the story of his life.
On 13 March 1968, Leonard was born in Kampung Yensawai to parents named Hendrikus Balay Saleo and Aleksina Mayor. He was strong-willed and principled. As a fisherman, he knew that fish stock was depleting because destructive fishing practices such as compressor fishing, potassium use, and bomb fishing in the area.
Konstatinus recalled his memories when he was in second grade of elementary school in 2002. One day his father took him diving to find sea cucumbers, but instead they saw a lot of dead fish and damaged corals. Seeing fisherman use bombs, Leonard chased and drove the fisherman off. Once, Leonard slapped a fisherman who had used fishing bombs. He tried hard to preserving marine resources.
“Someone used a fishing bomb in front of our village. So my father slapped him. He is a brother of my father murderer. My father was a harsh man. And he didn’t know whether someone held a grudge on him,” said Konstantinus. He remembered what his father used to tell him. “We live off the sea, and we owe our lives to the sea.” And so he strived to preserve it.
When Conservation International in Sorong posted a job vacancy in 2005, Leo applied and successfully passed the selection process. He was assigned as a field coordinator. His task was to monitor forest and coastal areas along the Dampir Strait.
In 2007, as part of his job, Leo built a guard post in Dayan Island. He engaged with communities living in coastal villages in the Batanta Island, including residents from Yensawai, Arefi, Amdui, Yenyar, and Yarweser. Together, they captured illegal loggers, trawl fishermen, as well as fishermen who used bombs, compressors, and potassium.
Konstantinus took me to visit his father’s grave. He said that the murderer was actually a good friend of his father’s, who would often visit their family home to dine together. The murderer, along with his associates, was part of an illegal logging syndicate in Papua who was eventually captured, and is currently serving his sentence in the Nusa Kambangan prison.