Waisai, Raja Ampat, Indonesia/Arlington, Va., USA – The Regency Government of Raja Ampat affirmed its strong commitment to protect sharks and manta rays this week by officially declaring its 46,000km2 marine waters a shark and manta ray sanctuary, the first established in Indonesia as well as the Coral Triangle, a Pacific region which includes the tropical waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Conservation International (CI) welcomed the Raja Ampat government’s bold decision to ban outright the harvesting and trade of sharks and manta rays from its marine waters. Sharks in particular play an important role, as apex predators at the top of the food chain, maintaining fisheries and ecosystem health. Sharks and manta rays are also an important attraction important tourist attraction and are estimated to generate significant local tourism revenue when alive and in their natural environment.
The Country Director of The Nature Conservancy-Indonesia Program, Rizal Algamar, said “We applaud the Raja Ampat government’s breakthrough in policy for having the vision to lead the way in shark and manta ray protection that supports the maritime regency’s commitments to enhance tourism and sustainable fisheries. Scientific evidence states that the value of live sharks and manta rays far outweighs the one-time profit of dead sharks and manta rays, benefiting a growing world-class and increasingly popular marine tourism and dive destination.”
Shark numbers have been depleted in Raja Ampat by fishing pressure, but are now showing encouraging signs of recovery in newly established No-Take-Zones within the Regency’s marine protected areas. The regency’s resident manta ray populations now require protection to ensure their populations are not decimated by the emerging trade in manta parts. Any further loss of sharks and mantas would otherwise diminish biodiversity, affect local fisheries and negatively impact tourism as divers turn elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the Conservation International Indonesia’s Director, Ketut Sarjana Putra emphasized that "This type of regional policy is a great example of local leaders building Indonesia's blue economy through investing in responsible marine tourism – recognizing the links between a healthy marine ecosystem and healthy sustainable society. Hopefully this will prompt other tourism-dependent regions to develop similar actions throughout the Indonesian archipelago.”
Concerned by the rampant fishing of sharks and manta rays in eastern Indonesia, local and global conservation allies joined forces behind a 2010 petition led by Misool Eco Resort and Shark Savers, with support from WildAid, Misool Baseftin Foundation, and Coral Reef Alliance, which urged the Raja Ampat government to take measures in protecting its sharks and manta rays. This was welcomed by the regency government, and the shark and manta ray sanctuary was declared by the head of government in October 2010. Since then a regulation to enforce the sanctuary was developed and issued by the local parliament in late 2012, with the assistance of TNC and CI. The regulation provides for the protection to a number of ecologically and economically important ocean animals including sharks and manta rays, as well as dugong, whales, turtles and dolphins and a number of ornamental fish species.
The Director of Area and Fish Species Conservation of the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF), Toni Ruchimat, highlighted that “The MMAF congratulates and supports the Raja Ampat government and people’s commitment to protect sharks and manta rays, setting the bar high for the sustainable use and management of marine resources in Indonesia.”
Shark populations are in a rapid and steep decline worldwide due to unrelenting fishing pressure and demand for shark fin soup. Up to 73 million sharks are killed annually, mostly for their fins. This wasteful and cruel process usually results in finned sharks being discarded alive. As a result, many shark species have suffered declines greater than 75% and in some species up to 90% or more. Sharks are either directly targeted, or caught as by-catch in industrial pelagic fisheries. There is also a new emerging market in Asia that is creating a demand for dried manta gill rakers to be used in traditional medicines, driving exponential increases in the fishery and severe population declines, especially in Indonesia. Currently, Indonesia ranks as the world’s largest exporter of sharks and rays.
Sharks, mantas, and rays are critical to the Raja Ampat government’s goals of sustainable fisheries, healthy reef environments, and strong eco-tourism. With the correct protection in place, shark and manta ray populations will start to recover. The recovery of shark populations will attract tourists to the region, and will ensure Raja Ampat remains one of the top preferred dive destinations in the world, bringing sustained income to local communities and economic wealth to the regency.
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Notes to the Editor:
- Sharks play an important ecological role in the ecosystem. Sharks are apex predators, which mean they are at the top of the food chain and play an important role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. Without top predators, ecosystems can be altered and become less productive, and in some cases can collapse.
- Sharks and mantas have slow reproduction rates compared to other fish species down the food chain which are generally capable of reproducing in large quantities. When sharks are fished at the same rate or intensity as other fish, their populations are badly depleted, rapidly. This means that populations of shark and mantas can be destroyed quickly and can take decades to recover. Severely depleted populations may never recover.
- When choosing a destination, many divers rank sharks and mantas as the number one attraction — ranking even higher than healthy coral reefs or turtles.
- Separate studies conducted in the Bahamas, South Africa, Palau, the Maldives, and Australia show that revenue from shark diving significantly surpasses potential shark fishing revenue. For example, the average tourism value of each living grey reef shark in the Maldives has been placed at US$3,300 per year and as high as $33,500 at popular dive sites, and this revenue recurs year after year from the same sharks. The manta ray industry was valued at $7.8 million in Maldives.
- Similarly in Fiji, 100 sharks in Beqa Lagoon generate $30,000 per shark, or $3,000,000 annually through dive tourism, and this revenue will continue as long as there are sharks to visit and dive with.
- Compare the Maldives and Fiji examples to a one off payment of Rupiah 2,975 per fin ($0.35 per fin) to local fishers in South East Misool in Raja Ampat. Shark diving can result in millions of dollars annually in each of the individual local destinations, well beyond the one-time income from shark fishing. Similarly, mantas are suggested to generate many hundreds of thousands of dollars through dive tourism (learn more at: http://www.mantarayofhope.com)
- Complete background information on the initiation of the Raja Ampat Shark and Ray Sanctuary and the Shark Savers Petition can be found at: http://www.sharksavers.org/tag_results?tag=Shark Sanctuaries Campaign and http://misoolecoresort.com/currentprojects.html
Geraldine Henrich-Koenis, Interim Global Director of Media Relations, The Nature Conservancy
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Kevin Connor, Media Manager, Conservation International
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