PROGRES Sulawesi: Introducing SHOAL’s newest partner

SHOAL is excited to announce our new partners in Sulawesi, Indonesia: PROGRES (Sulawesi Regional Ecological Conservation Initiative). PROGRES is a conservation NGO that harnesses the power of local communities and science to save endangered yet overlooked species. Each of the organisation’s wildlife programmes focuses on the following components to create the best possible chances of success: wildlife research and conservation, capacity building, community engagement, and educational activities.

PROGRES will be working with the Asian Species Action Partnership as our partners in the Lake Poso region of Sulawesi and will focus their Fish Programme on searching for three Critically Endangered fish that are endemic to the lake. The duck-billed bunting is one of the Top 10 Most Wanted Lost Fishes and hasn’t been seen since 1983. The Rosen’s buntingi and Poso bungu were both last seen in 1978. It is thought that volcanic and tectonic activities that occurred in the region in 1983 may be responsible for the population of each of the species to crash, and the decline of each has also been linked to invasive species and their parasites and diseases (Parenti and Soeroto 2004).

Chilo and Asnim visiting local to ask about fish

Chilo and Asnim visiting local to ask about fish © PROGRES

As part of this programme, the PROGRES team have been surveying villages around Lake Poso, interviewing fishermen to understand their fishing practices, and joining them fishing to learn their techniques. Speaking with PROGRES‘ co-executive directors Asnim Alyoihana Lanusi and Sheherazade, and fish programme coordinator Efran ‘Chilo’ Toau, it became clear that the fishing practices needed to catch these Critically Endangered fish are very technical. As only 16 fishermen from the lake, from only 6 of the 21 Poso villages, still use the techniques, there is hope that the species haven’t been seen simply because they’re not likely to be caught. The fishermen using this technique catch ‘rono’ fish – a popular delicacy in the region.

According to Chilo the technique involves the use of a lamp on the boat, “which is placed in the middle of the lake in the middle of the night, when it is very dark. The technique doesn’t work if the moon is very bright. The fish follow the light, and the fishermen guide the boat very slowly to the edge of the lake – it can take 4 or 5 hours – where the rono are caught in nets that have already been placed”.

The need for total darkness means that increased urbanisation around the lake has made catching the rono more difficult.

It can take a whole year to learn the skills needed to catch these fish, so many of the fishers in the local villages catch carp or tilapia instead, even though the rono are more profitable.

From PROGRES’ conversations with villagers and fishers, they have found older generations remember the three Critically Endangered species, but not since the 1980s. But optimism is important in conservation, and there could be a good reason for the species not being seen: aside from the technical methods needed to catch them, the three Critically Endangered species are larger than the rono species that are fished for food. There is every reason to believe the two buntingi species and the Poso bungu inhabit different, potentially deeper parts of the lake where the fishers’ nets don’t reach.

Populations are likely to be small, but there is hope for the species.

Preparing to catch rono

Preparing to catch rono © PROGRES

Catching rono

Catching rono © PROGRES

An important aspect of PROGRES’ work is their community involvement and educational activities. Sheherazade explained that this involves four strands: “First is the capacity building for the youth in Poso: we train them to do the fish surveys so that they can be the fish champions in the long term. Secondly is the training and engagement with the rono fishermen, so that they can do fish examinations on their own. Thirdly, we will run an outreach campaign with the local children, so they understand that these fish species were once present in the lake. Finally, through our research, we expect to provide key scientific information to support the Lake Poso protection by other stakeholders”.


Sheherazade © PROGRES



Asnim Alyoihana Lanusi

Asnim Alyoihana Lanusi © PROGRES

Chilo added that the response to this community work has been varied. Older generations that have seen – and tasted – the Critically Endangered fish are sad that the species may be extinct, and they support the programme fully. The younger generation are not so responsive just yet, as they’ve never seen the fish in their lifetimes. “But,” says Asnim, “this can be an opportunity: when we ask the young people to join us on the fish surveys, they do so, saying ‘This will be fun!’ Through our work, you can see the change in people’s attitudes to the wildlife in the lake – they start to understand why conservation matters”.

Lake Poso

Lake Poso © PROGRES

Chilo joining fisherman

Chilo with fisherman © PROGRES

PROGRES’ mission – to save endangered, yet overlooked, species – aligns seamlessly with SHOAL’s goal of halting extinctions in the most threatened freshwater species, which are often overlooked in conservation, making the organisation an ideal partner. When asked why she decided to co-found PROGRES with Sheherazade, Asnim said, “In Indonesia, conservation has been focused on targeting big mammals and protected areas, and within Sulawesi itself, conservation has been focused in the northern part of the island targeting a few conservation areas. All these initiatives are led by foreign or international big NGOs. Other species outside conservation areas have been left out, and that’s where PROGRES would like to contribute. These species have not received conservation attention, despite their threatened status, so through PROGRES we initiate locally-led conservation to study and protect them.

“We also want to show that local, Sulawesi natives, and women like Sheherazade and myself are capable of leading a conservation NGO and to lead with compassion, combining science and a community-based approach to conservation. Because we are from Sulawesi, we understand the cultural and local context, so our actions are more suitable. We are also passionate about enhancing the capacity of more Sulawesi natives to be conservationists”.

It is wonderful for SHOAL to be working with such a dynamic, forward-thinking team as PROGRES, and look forward to what we will achieve together!

Checking Adrianchthys fish with local fisherman1

Checking Adrianichthys fish with local fishmerman © PROGRES