The richest marine biodiversity in the world and one of the most compelling conservation victories.
The crystalline waters of the Bird’s Head region in West Papua, Indonesia, teem with life. This region, the epicenter of marine biodiversity in the world, boasts phenomenally high concentrations of marine species, including iconic species such as whale sharks, manta rays and sea turtles. The area thrives, providing food and income for the 760,000 Indonesians who live along its shores.
But that wasn’t always the case: A little over a decade ago, this underwater paradise was decimated by unregulated commercial fishing, poaching and damaging practices such as dynamite fishing. By the 1990s, some fisheries were reporting a decline of up to 90% catch per unit effort.
The waters of the Bird’s Head were brought to the brink of ruin — and for almost two decades, Conservation International has been working to bring them back, working alongside the communities that depend upon them.
Why is it important?
Covering an area the size of Great Britain, the waters of Indonesia’s Bird’s Head region include more than 2,500 islands and reefs.
It is home to more than 70 species of reef fishes, corals and crustaceans found nowhere else on the planet, leading reef scientists to call it a “cauldron of evolution” and a “species factory.”
Bird’s Head’s islands boast the biggest remaining nesting beaches for the critically endangered Pacific Leatherback turtle, the largest and fastest-swimming turtle in the world.
The Bird’s Head Seascape Initiative was launched in 2004 and is among the world’s most ambitious community-based conservation programs. Together with over 30 partners — including the people of West Papua, the government of Indonesia, The Nature Conservancy and WWF — Conservation International created a network of 12 marine protected areas (MPAs) covering more than 3.6 million hectares (8.89 million acres). These MPAs employ local people to survey and protect coasts, reefs and fish, helping communities to protect and sustainably manage their resources and their livelihoods. Since the initiative’s inception, fish populations have rebounded; sharks, whales and rays have returned; poaching by outside fishers is down 90%; coral is recovering; and ecotourism has flourished.
Creating protected areas
Protected areas created in a transparent and collaborative process can help to alleviate conflict while managing natural resources and conserving biodiversity in some of the most endangered places on Earth — including our seas.
Working with 150 partners, Conservation International has helped to secure the protection of 5.2 million hectares (12.8 million acres) of sea have been protected and 22 million hectares (54.4 million acres) strengthened in four “seascape” areas: Abrolhos, Bird’s Head, Sulu-Sulawesi and Eastern Tropical Pacific.
Protected — now and forever
Conservation International teamed up with local and national governments as well as more than 30 other partners to protect the Bird’s Head Seascape in perpetuity. The Blue Abadi Fund is a dedicated conservation trust fund that will disburse grants to communities and agencies so they can sustainably manage their marine resources into the future (“abadi” means forever in Indonesian). This is the largest place-based marine conservation effort to date.
Conservation International is grateful to work in close partnership with the people of West Papua, the government of Indonesia, The Nature Conservancy, WWF and more than thirty other partners. Special thanks to The Walton Family Foundation for its long-standing support of the Bird's Head Seascape Initiative.
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© Conservation International/photo by John Martin