In early 2006, Conservation International led two unprecendented biodiversity surveys in the remote corners of the 183,000-km2 Bird’s Head Seascape in Papua, Indonesia
During five exciting weeks, a multi-national team uncovered a biological treasure trove of more than 50 new species of fish, coral, and crustacean, including two new species of epaulette sharks that use their fins to “walk” across the bottom – finds that made international headlines. With 1,323 species of coral-reef fishes and more than 75 percent of the world’s recorded reef-building coral species in its waters, the Bird’s Head Seascape was placed firmly in the global center of marine biodiversity.
Conducted under the auspices of the Indonesian Department of Nature Conservation, the survey was used to assess the conservation status of existing marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Bird’s Head region and to identify other sites with high biodiversity and conservation value that should be targeted for gazettement within new MPAs.
IN PHOTOS: The Blue Auction has touched many lives.
Unfortunately, the survey also revealed urgent threats to this “species factory,” including destructive blast and cyanide fishing, and a wide range of harmful economic activities – both ongoing and proposed – including mining and timber harvesting in coastal areas and plans for industrial fishing.
The urgent need to protect Bird’s Head, combined with the overwhelmingly positive response to the publicity garnered by the new discoveries led to a plan to raise funds for the region’s high-priority marine conservation programs. Under the visionary leadership of Cherie Nursalim, Francesco Bongiovanni, Enki Tan, Peter Seligmann, and Hugh Edmeades, a plan to link the description of some of the newly-discovered Bird’s Head species to a fundraising “Blue Auction” were quickly developed and enthusiastically endorsed by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences and Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.
ON THE MAP: Bird's Head is home to an incredible diversity of life.
| Hemiscyllium galei. © Gerry Allen
The gala Blue Auction was held in the historic Musée Oceanographique de Monaco on September 20, 2007. Sponsored by the Monaco-Asia Society
and Conservation International, and under the high patronage of HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, the charity auction was conducted by Christie’s International
While the auctioning of species naming rights was certainly not a new idea, it had never before been attempted on such a grand scale, nor with a marine conservation focus. The naming rights to ten new fish species discovered in the Bird’s Head, along with two non-species lots (including a follow-on expedition to the Bird’s Head with CI scientists and a new “floating ranger station” patrol boat) were auctioned and together raised a total of $2,045,000, with the highest bid of $500,000 garnered for the honor of naming one of the new species of “walking” shark.
ON VIDEO: Explore the underwater diversity that is benefiting from the Blue Auction.
The revenues from the ten species lots (totaling $1,595,000) will be used exclusively for three priority conservation programs in the Bird’s Head Seascape:
- A marine enforcement initiative designed to dramatically reduce destructive and illegal fishing,
- A marine conservation education initiative that will use an innovative “floating education center” as a platform for interactive conservation education courses in the remote coastal villages of the Bird’s Head, and
- A capacity-building initiative to foster taxonomic expertise amongst young Indonesian marine scientists.
The remaining revenues generated from the two non-species lots are dedicated to conservation programs run by the Monaco-based NGOs Act for Nature and the Prince Albert II Foundation.
Check here regularly for updates on these three high-priority conservation programs, as well as exciting news from the Bird’s Head Seascape!