So rich in life are the reefs around Raja Ampat that WWF has described them as a ‘species factory’. Part of the Coral Triangle, located at the northwest corner of Indonesia’s West Papua province, the archipelago of more than 1500 islands spreads over 40,000 sq km of land and sea. It is home to at least 1,500 tropical fish species – many unknown elsewhere, and over ten times the number of hard coral species found in the entire Caribbean. Some of these corals, scientists have discovered, appear more resistant to the increases in ocean temperatures caused by global warming, meaning the ‘species factory’ offers hope for restoring other reefs that have been devastated by coral bleaching.
In recent years, however, eastern Indonesia has seen significant dramatic population growth, increasing pressure on the reefs from a range of threats including longlining and dynamite blast fishing, shark finning, logging, mining, and oil exploration. Back in 2005, the founders of Misool began both to create their resort, and to persuade local people of the merits of creating a no take zone around their island to preserve this unique natural environment. Leased directly from the local village, their first No-Take Zone encompassed 425 sq km of reef surrounding the resort island in Southeast Misool. Five years later, community leaders from a second village asked Misool to help create a second conservation area, meaning the No-Take Zone grew to include the islands of Daram, bringing the total No-Take Zone to 828 sq km. That year, Misool and Shark Savers also successfully petitioned the Raja Ampat government to declare Raja Ampat a shark and manta sanctuary.
Inside this No-Take Zone, all fishing, shark finning, and harvesting of turtle eggs and shellfish are prohibited, enforced by a 15 person Misool Ranger Patrol that patrols between the resort and three remote Ranger Stations.
Meanwhile, research programmes such as the Misool Manta Project are monitoring the health of local marine populations, while community schemes range from direct employment of 75 local community members, a recycling project, and the Lamakera Programme, a five-year programme to end the illegal hunting of mantas and sharks by providing alternative livelihoods to marginal communities.
The results speak for themselves. Illegal fishing activity has been reduced by 86% inside the No-Take Zones. As a result, fish biomass has increased by over 250% in the last six years, and in some areas, the increase has been over 600%. The world’s coral reefs continue to face unprecedented threats, but thanks to Misool’s work at the ‘Species Factory’, there is hope for restoration and renewal.