In 2006, researchers led by CI's Mark Erdmann dove into the coastal waters of Indonesia's Papua province and found a wonder world of marine life. Today, the region that Erdmann described as a "species factory" is a new marine protected area (MPA).
The Kaimana community-based Marine Protected Area, a 597,747-hectare coastal zone that is larger than Rhode Island, was formally declared in November 2008 by Indonesian Marine and Fisheries Minister Freddy Numberi. Encompassing pristine coastal waters and scores of local communities of the Kaimana Regency, the MPA is intended to halt destructive fishing practices including the use of bombs and potassium that damaged coral reefs and the fish stocks that lived in them.
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"This is a good example for other areas to protect their fish supply, so people no longer have to worry about depleting their main source of food in the future," said Dr. Jatna Supriatna, CI's regional vice president for Indonesia.
The Case for Conservation
The Kaimana example also shows how modern conservation is supposed to work.
Erdmann's team of international and local researchers identified a place with unmatched biodiversity – one of the greatest concentrations of fish and corals on Earth, including species previously unknown to science.
Working with local communities and scientists as well as government authorities, CI helped create effective strategies such as MPAs for ensuring that such essential resources will exist in perpetuity for the good of everyone.
The goal of MPAs is sustainable use of marine resources, with increased awareness of how to conserve those resources for present and future benefit. That means balancing the needs of coastal communities with conservation of ecosystems such as coral reefs that are essential habitat for fish, a major protein source and income generator.
Protecting marine ecosystems makes them more resilient to rising sea temperatures and other effects of climate change. In addition, helping coastal communities develop alternate sources of conservation-based income – such as ecotourism – provides people with alternatives to depleting the resources at hand.
IN-DEPTH: Take a closer look at Indonesia's Papua Province.
Recent studies show that protecting such fragile and interconnected ecosystems of coastal landscapes and waters brings a range of economic and social benefits for local populations, including a steady source of food and more job opportunities.
"It's not an either-or situation, but a win-win," said Dr. Leah Bunce Karrer, senior director of CI's Marine Management Area Science (MMAS) program. "Marine ecosystems provide essential resources and services for coastal communities and human societies in general, so keeping them healthy helps everyone."
One study – the first global analysis of the importance of marine resources to people in tropical coastal areas – found that the vast majority of coastal dwellers depend on fishing as a primary source of income, especially in Asia. In the Caribbean and Central America, meanwhile, tourism based on pristine coral reefs is becoming a major economic driver.
The study – conducted by CI, the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – also confirmed that illegal fishing, overfishing and pollution were the main threats to marine ecosystems.
At the recent World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain, CI and partners released another study that showed how properly planned and managed MPAs provide a holistic approach to conservation that helps coastal communities and the biodiversity on which they depend.
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More than 100 experts confirmed the study results, showing how MPAs provide ecological and socio-economic benefits including healthier ecosystems, improved livelihoods, food security and greater environmental awareness, as well as reduced conflicts between communities.
In many cases, communities that traditionally depended on fishing alone found that MPAs offered diversified livelihoods including ecotourism, protected area management and even handicrafts made from plants in mangrove swamps.
Another key finding: Protecting spawning grounds and other vital fish habitat increases fish populations that spill over from no-fishing zones into surrounding areas to provide sustainable catches for local fishermen.
Nature for People's Sake
"We're not trying to be preservationists that aim for complete human exclusion," Karrer noted. "We recognize that success depends on conservation that works for species and people."
In Indonesia, local authorities echoed the need for conservation to work for people.
"Through the declaration of this MPA, let's make sure that the development of the MPA will … enhance people's welfare, especially the welfare of traditional fishermen in Kaimana," said Yonathan Ojanggai, Chief of the Mairasi Clan. "If not us, who else would develop Kaimana."
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