The clear waters of Raja Ampat are teeming with life; at the heart of the Coral Triangle this epicenter of marine biodiversity is home to a phenomenally high concentration of marine species, including iconic species such as manta rays and sea turtles. The area thrives, and this rich archipelago provides food and a foundation for livelihood for the approximately 50,000 local community members living in Raja Ampat’s 117 small villages.
However, this was not always the case, just a few decades ago, this underwater paradise was being devastated by unregulated commercial fishing, poaching, illegal and damaging practices such as dynamite fishing and shark finning. By the 1990s, some fisheries were reporting a decline of up to 90% catch per unit effort across the wider Birdshead Seascape region.
Recognising the local and global ecological significance of the region, a collaboration began in 2004 between NGOs (Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy and WWF), local communities and government, which saw the creation of a network of Marine Protected Areas which today covers just over 2 million hectares. These MPAs employ local people to protect marine environments, and further empower communities to protect and sustainably manage their resources. Tourism was developed and viewed as a means to provide opportunities for sustainable livelihoods and also had the additional benefit of serving as an informal method of regulating illegal or unsustainable fishing practice.
Since the implementation of Marine Protected Areas, and a dedicated Marine Park Authority began patrolling and monitoring the park, gradually, fish populations recovered, sharks, whales and rays returned, poaching and illegal fishing was virtually eradicated, coral thrived and tourism flourished; all contributing to the vibrant reefs we see today.
However, whilst these healthy coral reefs, blue waters, scenic islands and abundant marine life draw visitors from around the globe, with this comes the need for careful management and sustainable planning to ensure that associated development does not lead to further environmental harm and reef degradation. As is seen so often seen coastal regions, over development, or rapid and unregulated development brings with it environmental threats such as pollution (waste water, sewerage and plastic pollution), runoff from poor land use practice and physical damage to reefs from human activity (anchors and boat strikes, diver damage). Crown of Thorns Starfish are also now seen in various locations around Raja Ampat, at what is considered to be outbreak levels. . See the COTS Outbreak map here.
In an area as sensitive and globally significant as Raja Ampat, it is essential that conservation and sustainability is a priority in all development and human activities.
The Raja Ampat Marine Park Authority strives to protect the world’s last remaining coral stronghold through a collaborative stakeholder approach to sustainable management, that has environment, local community wellbeing and sustainable development at its core.