Introducing Rote

By: Nara Wisesa

Rote Island
Indonesia’s southernmost island 

The island of Rote is one of the southernmost islands of Indonesia, and it is one of the islands that makes up the province of East Nusa Tenggara, which is the easternmost part of Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Archipelago. North of Rote is the island of Timor, and to the west of Rote is the Savu (or Sawu) Sea, while to the east and the south is the Timor Sea. Rote island supports a high level of biodiversity, with 11,158 ha of coral reefs, 3,885 ha of seagrass, and 2,113 ha of mangroves. The Savu Sea west to Alor is an Indonesian Marine Protected Area, home to many protected marine species including cetaceans and sea turtles (Prabuning et al. 2022).

This island is also home to more than 165,000 people, with almost 3,000 fisheries households as well as more than 8,600 seaweed farmers, indicating that marine resources supported by the coastal ecosystem, including fish stocks and coastal waters for seaweed farms, are important sources of livelihood for the coastal communities in Rote (Prabuning et al. 2022, Susilowati 2021).

However, this rich marine ecosystem is under pressure, including from direct human activities. Destructive fishing practices in the past, overexploitation and coastal pollution events from oil spills and plastic waste were recorded and observed to have caused damage to coastal ecosystems in Rote. The effects of climate change have also triggered coral bleaching events, and will potentially increase the maximum intensity of storms and cyclones in the Timor Sea by up to 21% (Prabuning et al. 2022; Johnson et al. 2021). This increase in storm intensity was experienced first hand in 2021 by people living in Rote, when the Seroja Tropical Cyclone devastated the island and damaged the communities’ means of livelihood, such as their fishing boats, seaweed farms, and coastal infrastructure (Rote Ndao District Govt. 2021). In addition, the impacts of climate change will potentially affect the ability of households in Rote to meet their livelihood needs as well, adding the pressure on their socio-economic conditions, including for women groups in the community (Susilowati 2021).

Integrated Coastal Management in Rote

As part of the effort to mitigate these pressures, the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries and the Local Government of Rote District are working together with partner organizations including NGOs and UN Agencies such as UNDP through their ATSEA-2 project to reduce vulnerability of the people living in Rote Island’s coastal area and improve their resilience. The target of these efforts is to prepare local communities to respond and adapt to both existing and future pressures as well as potential impacts of climate change. One of the approaches being implemented is the development and implementation of an Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) approach.

The ICM framework that is being adopted in Rote aims to achieve social and economic development while safeguarding coastal ecosystems as well as integrating climate change adaptation measures. The framework involves grassroots adoption at the village level with an emphasis on community participation and practical approaches that can be implemented by local communities. One of the key aspects of the framework is collaboration among the key decision makers at the different levels along with the coastal community members.

2023 Scoping Visit to Rote Island 

In July 2023, I was able to carry out a research scoping visit to Rote Island. The visit is a significant part of my PhD research planning step, where I would like to look into processes related to the conservation and governance of marine resources in the region. I was able to conduct this visit thanks to the URI International Travel Grant that was kindly provided by Gary Oates.

During my time on Rote Island, I was also able to witness firsthand the strong relationship between coastal communities and their marine resources, and gain insight on several potential risks that this relationship may face in the future. One of the most salient condition that I observed was the potential threat of ocean grabbing due to an increase in tourism development. On the other hand, I was also able to witness how the ICM approach is being implemented on the ground, where local community members and women's group are directly involved in diversifying their livelihood sources, which hopefully would reduce their vulnerability to potential changes in marine resource conditions.

During this scoping visit, I managed to make connections and establish contacts with local government, NGO, and local community actors and decision makers, who will be important resources for my research. The engagement shown by these stakeholders encouraged me that my work holds potential to impact policies concerning marine resource governance on the island, and at a larger scale in Indonesia. Based on these insights, I hope that my upcoming research would help local policy makers in developing policies that would help in ensuring that the rights of local coastal communities in relation to their coastal resources and livelihoods have been considered in decision-making processes.

Coastal Environment and Resources in Rote

Coastal area being used or sold for tourism purposes in Rote

Discussions with local people during the scoping visit


Johnson, J., Welch, D., Tracey, D., Susanto, H., Tania, C., Triani, D. (2021). Vulnerability of the Timor Sea marine region to climate change: Summary. Report to the Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystem Action Phase 2 (ATSEA-2) Project: Bali, Indonesia. 33p.

Prabuning, D, Nasution, F, & Anzar. (2022). Pengembangan dan Adopsi Kerangka Kerja Integrated Coastal Management di Rote Ndao: Laporan ke Proyek Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystem Action Phase 2 (ATSEA-2). YRCI: Bali, Indonesia. 53pp.

Pemerintah Kabupaten Rote Ndao. (2021). Dampak Badai Siklon Tropis Seroja di Kabupaten Rote Ndao—ROTENDAOKAB.GO.ID. (2021, April 8). 

Susilowati, I. (2021). Gender Assessment Report for Rote Ndao, NTT. Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystem Action Phase-2 (ATSEA-2) Project: Jakarta, Indonesia. 26pp.