By Bram Goram
Off the northwestern tip of West Papua, Indonesia is a remote chain of stunning islands surrounded by the world’s richest coral reefs. The islands are called Raja Ampat (“the four kings”), and are part of the Bird’s Head Seascape; they’re also my ancestral home. Both as a CI employee and as a member of Raja Ampat’s indigenous council known as the Adat, I work for the conservation of Raja Ampat’s rich marine resources for my community.
Last week, that work was threatened by 33 illegal poachers who entered Raja Ampat in search of sharks, rays and other marine species that they had long since fished out in their own waters. This is the story of how Raja Ampat fought back.
I was conducting a community outreach event on a small island in the middle of the Raja Ampat, when I got the call — an urgent SOS message from my colleagues in the Kawe Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the most remote corner of Raja Ampat. The MPA was under attack!
The Kawe MPA is known as “the crown jewel” of the Raja Ampat archipelago. This uninhabited area is owned by the Kawe tribe; it is a unique and world-renowned site that features the stunning Wayag karst islands, regionally significant green turtle (Chelonia mydas) nesting beaches, and important shark and ray birthing grounds.
Despite its global importance, the area was previously a hotbed of illegal activities such as dynamite fishing and shark finning from outside fishermen. However, in 2006 the local Kawe tribal leaders decided enough was enough. With support from CI, they declared a 155,000-hectare (383,000-acre) MPA in a bottom-up process that included a declaration both by the Papuan traditional Adat council as well as the Raja Ampat government. This was eventually followed by a national declaration affording it the highest level of protection for any MPA in Papua.
The Kawe communities took it one step further, declaring over 97.5 percent of the MPA as a “no-take zone” through a traditional Papuan sasi declaration, meaning that no fishing of any kind is allowed within this area. With this declaration they made the Kawe MPA into the single largest no-take zone in all of the Coral Triangle, a region stretching from Indonesia to the Philippines and the Solomon Islands. In addition, in 2011 the area was additionally protected under the Raja Ampat shark sanctuary decree, which forbids any shark and ray fishing anywhere in Raja Ampat. More....