Just five years ago, Rudy Dimara was a fisherman, using dynamite and other destructive methods to make a living off of the coral reefs in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago. Over time, Dimara began to notice that fish populations were steadily decreasing, and he approached Conservation International (CI) to ask for help restoring the reefs.
Today, Dimara’s livelihood remains tied to the ocean, but now his job is devoted to protecting the same reefs he previously destroyed. He is now part of CI’s Papuan Bird’s Head Seascape team.
In the four years since the Papuan Bird’s Head Seascape was established, community patrol teams have almost eliminated illegal fishing in the network of six Raja Ampat marine protected areas.
A Coordinated Team
As a coral reef monitor, Dimara works with other motivated community members who all have their own reasons for joining up with CI. Take Ronald Mumbrasar, a high school student who became interested in the reefs when he learned that Raja Ampat is one of the best scuba diving spots in the world. Dimara and Mumbrasar learned to dive and are now assessing ecosystem and species health while working with local villages to improve marine resource management.
DISCOVER: Learn more about CI's Global Marine Division
This work is part of CI’s larger ambitions in the Papuan Bird’s Head Seascape, where we are working to expand marine conservation efforts across sectors, scales and geographies in a territory the size of Cambodia.
Life in the Bird’s Head
The waters of eastern Indonesia are home to an astonishing abundance of life – with over 1,800 species of reef fish living among the corals, and gargantuan blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) and manta rays (Manta birostris) inhabiting the deeper waters. Not only do these species provide food and tourism opportunities for coastal communities, but they also form the building blocks of marine ecosystems that buffer storms, absorb carbon and supply other benefits for humans and animals alike.
However, since the 1970s there has been massive overfishing of commercial species like lobsters (Panulirus versicolor), sea cucumbers (Holothuria sp) and mollusks. Regulation has proven especially difficult given that much of the fishing pressure has come from foreign boats, from places like Taiwan, Province of China and the Philippines.
In 2005, CI and partners helped establish the Papuan Bird’s Head Seascape to improve marine governance and ecosystem health in this critical region. And not a moment too soon – during a biodiversity survey in Raja Ampat that same year, CI researchers found many lobster caves, but not a lobster in sight.
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Local Actions, Regional Impacts
Rudy Dimara and Ronald Mumbrasar of CI’s coral monitoring team in Raja Ampat. © CI/Photo by Muhammad Erdi Lazuardi
Through regional education projects, local people realized that their biodiversity was in danger, and that serious action was needed to protect it. One successful method has been the implementation of the sasi system.
An age-old tradition in Papua and other Indonesian provinces, sasi is a community mechanism that serves to manage natural resources sustainably, with specific restrictions determined by community agreement. For example, one village has chosen to only open certain coral reefs for fishing for two weeks out of the year – and even then, only lobsters, sea cucumbers and mollusks can be collected. Dynamite fishing is outlawed at all times, as are oxygen compressors, which would dramatically increase the number of animals that each fisherman could collect.
Sasi agreements are often certified by the local church or mosque, encouraging fishermen to respect their restrictions. In the four years since the seascape was established, community patrol teams have almost eliminated illegal fishing in the network of six Raja Ampat marine protected areas (MPAs).
Outreach efforts by people like Dimara and Mumbrasar – coupled with a dramatic increase in the number of species discovered in the region over the past few years – has bolstered local support for conservation.
Education about the consequences of species extinction spurred a local church community from the Ayau islands in northern Raja Ampat to send a letter to CI, promising that they would stop hunting green turtles (Chelonia mydas) if given an alternative source of protein. CI sent 10 Ayau residents to Bali for training in pig husbandry, and several villages now rely on pigs for meat and the production of biogas (fuel made from pig waste).Turtle poaching has been nearly eliminated in the region; in a recent example of changing conservation attitudes, the local government and community leaders ordered a man to release seven turtles he had captured to sell to other islands.
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This year, CI and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) launched a two-year MPA management capacity-building program to empower community leaders to make smart conservation and development decisions.
CI continues to be an important ally for local communities, who often request that CI staff be present at meetings with the government, to help give a voice to communities’ conservation concerns. They also hope to expand their capacity for other sustainable livelihood activities, such as ecotourism.
Scaling Up Successes
The marine realm is the largest biome on Earth; what happens in one region may have unforeseen impacts on a connected ecosystem hundreds or thousands of miles away. Therefore, sustainable management of marine resources will require coordinated efforts at all levels of governance – from the community scale up to provincial, national and multinational levels.
Within the Papuan Bird’s Head Seascape (along with other seascapes across the world’s oceans), community-level successes like the sasi system are bolstered by strengthened policies and capacities at the provincial and national levels. CI is supporting cooperation and collaboration between governments, communities, industry and organizations as we strive to restore and protect the ocean’s most important (and vulnerable) areas.
READ MORE: Around the World: Marine Protected Areas