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An unprecedented success story
Experience one of the greatest spectacles of biodiversity in the world.
Dive with Ronald Mambrasar and his son, Valen, into crystal-clear waters teeming with fish. It’s be hard to believe that, a little over a decade ago, these treasures were almost lost — only to be rescued by one of the world’s most ambitious community-based conservation programs.
Since 2004, Conservation International has helped local partners protect the waters of Raja Ampat in the Bird’s Head Seascape of remote Indonesia. Despite only being the size of Great Britain, this unique area holds more species of fish than the entire Great Barrier Reef and more species of coral than the Caribbean Sea.
Meet Ronald and Valen
In “Valen’s Reef,” join local fisherman-turned-coral-reef-scientist and Conservation International staffer Ronald Mambrasar as he monitors the reefs with his young son, Valen. Ronald tells Valen the story of how the area was almost destroyed and how the community-led conservation initiative restored it. As a native Papuan and father of four, Ronald shares what it means to protect his home for Valen’s generation and shows just how successful conservation can be when local people take a leading role.
At a glance: the Bird’s Head Seascape
- Sorong: Largest city in West Papua with over 200,000 residents.
- Cape Kri: Current world record holder for most fish species seen during a single dive (374 species).
- Dampier Strait: Migration route for cetaceans, like orca, sperm whales and dolphins.
- Kawe: Single largest “no take” zone in Indonesia which also includes important nesting beaches for green sea turtles.
- Ayau-Asia: Critically-important spawning aggregation (or “SPAG”) for groupers.
- Abun: The world’s largest nesting beach for Pacific leatherback sea turtles.
- Karst: Manta and reef shark nursery.
- Cenderawasih Bay: Where whale sharks congregate.
- Bintuni Bay: World’s largest standing mangrove forest.
- Puncak Jaya: The highest mountain in Indonesia at 4,884 meters (16,024 ft).
Scientists call this a species factory or a cauldron of evolution where new species are being discovered all of the time.
Senior Advisor, Indonesian Marine Program
A paradise nearly lost
Not long ago, this underwater paradise was decimated by commercial fishing, poaching and damaging practices like blast fishing — the detonation of explosives on the reefs to stun fish and increase catches.
By the 1990s, some fisheries were reporting a decline of up to 90% catch per unit effort. Indonesians living along the coasts saw their livelihoods — and traditional fishing rights — slip away as outside interests profited from plundering the Pacific.
Now, fish populations have rebounded; sharks, whales and rays have returned; poaching is down 90%; coral is recovering; and ecotourism has flourished — all while local people’s access to education, food and livelihoods have improved.
The Bird’s Head Seascape is poised to transition into an independent, community managed network Marine Protected Area and stands as a model for other programs around the world.
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 30 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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© CI/photo by Mark Erdmann
© CI/photo by Mark Erdmann
© Shawn Heinrichs