Protecting Misool’s Pristine Reefs Through Community Education in Indonesia

Situated in a remote corner of Indonesia, Raja Ampat’s reefs lie at the epicenter of marine biodiversity, in the heart of the Coral Triangle. The region is home to 75% of the world’s known coral species, and more than 1,500 species of fish.

According to Dr. Mark Erdmann, coral ecologist and VP of Conservation International’s Asia-Pacific marine programs, “There is greater biodiversity — that is to say, a larger number and greater diversity of fish, coral, and mollusks — on these reefs than anywhere on earth. A single football field-sized patch of Misool’s reefs has nearly five times the number of coral species as the entire Caribbean Sea.”

Misool’s reefs remain remarkably intact, providing a sanctuary for manta rays, sharks, sea turtles, whales and pristine coral reefs. However, overfishing, destructive fishing practices, sea turtle egg harvesting, shark finning, manta hunting and even dynamite fishing threaten to destroy this unique ecosystem.

Misool Foundation helped create the Misool Marine Reserve to protect this pristine habitat from exploitation. An important part of this work is ensuring the well-being of the local communities and encouraging a conservation mindset in all citizens. The local village of Fafanlap had reported low student retention and anecdotal interviews with teachers indicated that the students were not suitably prepared to benefit from their classes.

Misool and WildAid created a Community Education Program that prioritized early childhood education in local villages. In 2011, in partnership with Seacology, the two organizations built a kindergarten in the village of Fafanlap. The kindergarten helps kids ages 4-6 prepare for school through a curriculum that increases student literacy and subsequently reduces class dropout rate.

The Kindergarten now has 44 registered students and employs 3 teachers who focus on learning through play and teaching the children about the environment. Misool continues their work by supporting teacher salaries and school supplies.

Reducing Plastic Waste in the Galapagos

WildAid and the Galapagos National Park Service launched a two-month campaign in the Galapagos to reduce plastic use in schools.

WildAid has embarked on a new campaign to ensure protection for marine species in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. This week, together with the Galapagos National Park Service, we launched a campaign in the Galapagos to fight plastic pollution. Named “+Life – Trash”, the two-month educational campaign intends to reduce the use of plastic bottles in Galapagos schools.

Our oceans currently receive 5-13 million metric tons of plastic waste each year. The results of this can be seen in the oceanic garbage patches— vortexes of plastic debris; overwhelming pollution in coastal areas, including an uninhabited island in the South Pacific that had nearly 38 million pieces of plastic on its beaches; and marine wildlife deaths due to ingestion of plastic pieces, including a whale that died last week due to starvation after ingesting dozens of plastic bags.

Unfortunately, plastic waste continues to increase across the world and a new investigative report by the Guardian found some troubling figures:
One million plastic bottles are bought every minute;

  • One million plastic bottles are bought every minute;
  • By 2021, demand for plastic bottles is slated to rise by more than 20%;
  • Fewer than 50% of the bottles bought in 2016 were recycled;
  • And only 7% of those recycled were turned into new bottles –
    the rest ended up in landfills or the oceans

These numbers support a report published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that by 2050, our oceans will contain more plastic than fish. Unsubstantial fishing practices have already overexploited or depleted 90% of commercial fisheries and the impacts of climate change threaten to destroy critical marine habitat, which could further decimate marine species.

However, effective marine management could help to protect places like the Galapagos, whose marine biodiversity is a beacon of hope for other nations and where illegal fishing has severely declined over the last decade due to increased enforcement.

WildAid’s plastics-reduction campaign is being piloted on 488 students at a local elementary school in the Galapagos, as well as parents and teachers. The campaign will track plastic use throughout the year and compare it to current numbers to measure its effectiveness. Using a combination of games and infographics, our team will explain why plastic pollution is a problem for our oceans and how it impacts bird, turtle, and marine mammal species, as well as our own health and economy. Students will also be given a reusable water bottle to incentivize its use over single-use plastic bottles.

WildAid is reducing plastic use in the Galapagos thanks to the support of National Geographic—Lindblad Expeditions. This campaign is part of our work with the Galapagos National Park Service to increase sustainability in artisanal fisheries, increase safety at Galapagos tourist sites, and provide environmental education for Galapagos residents.

A Manta Fishing Village’s Transformation in Indonesia

WildAid and Misool Foundation team up to transform a manta hunting village into a manta sanctuary through community outreach and perseverance.

Of the handful of locations that account for the majority of manta fishers, the central Indonesian village of Lamakera is at the top and is considered the world’s largest manta fishing site. Villagers here have conducted traditional manta hunts for many generations, but with the arrival of the gill plate trade in the early 2000s, the community converted to diesel engines and transformed to a full-scale commercial fishery, landing over 1,000 mantas in a single season.

Following a landmark victory for mantas at the 2013 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and after a one-year campaign in Indonesia by Conservation International and WildAid, in January of 2014 we achieved an unprecedented achievement: securing full national protection for manta rays and establishing Indonesia as the world’s largest manta sanctuary.

With this landmark legislation in place, Misool Baseftin immediately turned began planning in earnest what would become the kick-off for a massive community transition program to end the slaughter of manta rays in Lamakera.

Together with WildAid, Misool Foundation is now working within the community to make lasting change in Lamakera. Having earned the trust and respect of many village elders, they are engaging with the community at large, educating community members more thoroughly about the state of the oceans (and the inevitable fate of their industry and villages if they don’t act sustainably) and gathering wide-spread support for a community transition from manta fishing to research, sustainable fisheries and tourism.

However, a community transition to new industries can be extremely challenging, especially in a place like Lamakera, where the manta hunt is not just a source of income for locals but also a source of pride and traditional identity. As such, Misool is engaging respectfully and carefully to ensure that their presence is invited and respected throughout the communities. Activities in the villages are completely transparent, and designed to engage every interested or concerned villager in public forum. The decision to stop fishing may come from the village elders, but the vast majority of people must support the transition for it to be effective.

So far, the results speak for themselves. In just two years, more than 80% of the fishers in Lamakera have given up manta hunting and have transitioned to sustainable fisheries or work in research. Misool’s program continues to engage new fishers to the program and work on a new research center will ensure that Lamakera can become a hub for manta studies and conservation work.

Casquita’s Journey: Rescuing an Injured Sea Turtle in Ecuador

A sea turtle named Casquita makes her way to the sea after recovering from injuries for two months at the Machalilla Wildlife Hospital in Ecuador.

This week marked the beginning of a fresh start for Casquita, an Olive Ridley sea turtle in Ecuador. Accompanied by children from the local community, Casquita triumphantly made her way back to the sea after recovering from injuries inflicted by a boat propeller and malnutrition.

Two months ago, Casquita was found severely undernourished on the beach of the Hotel Las Tanuzas with a fractured skull and shell. The hotel staff brought Casquita to the Machalilla Wildlife Hospital for treatment where volunteers immediately treated her injuries and helped nourish her back to health. After several weeks, she was transferred to a larger tank in preparation for her release.

On the day of her release, children chanted Casquita’s name as hospital volunteers brought her out in a stretcher and placed her in the water to finally return home.

Children surround Casquita’s tank before her release (Machalilla Wildlife Hospital)

Casquita is one of the many marine animals treated at the Machalilla Wildlife Hospital. Sea turtles, sea lions, and sea birds are brought to the hospital from the entire coast of Ecuador with injuries varying from boat strikes, lesions and internal damage by fishing hooks to getting trapped in or consuming marine debris/plastics.

The hospital is a grassroots project begun in 2012 as a rescue operation by the Machalilla park rangers to monitor stranded marine animals, particularly sea turtles. Funding, food and medications for the project were limited to donations from the community and t-shirt sales. Any additional supplies were purchased by hospital volunteers out of pocket. Hospital staff brought patients to private labs or public hospitals in town to conduct digital imaging and blood tests, which are crucial for diagnosis and treatment.

This year, WildAid partnered with the hospital to provide them with crucial resources including tanks, medications and equipment, as well as increase the number of animals treated throughout the year. This collaboration is part of WildAid’s comprehensive sea turtle conservation program that protects sea turtle nests, releases hatchlings to the sea, educates the community about the importance of sea turtles, reduces sea turtle bycatch by underwriting at-sea patrols and treats injured sea turtles.

WildAid Protects Endangered Sea Turtles in Ecuador

WildAid partners with Pacoche National Park to help 15,000 sea turtle hatchlings reach the sea.

Last month, hundreds of female sea turtles left the safety of the sea to lay thousands of eggs along Ecuador’s coast. Park rangers in the Pacoche marine protected area (MPA) have begun patrolling miles of beaches to identify, protect and tag nests with educational materials to prevent predation.

Sea turtles play an important role in a healthy marine and coastal ecosystem. They also generate more than $1 million in tourism annually for local communities in Ecuador. Yet sea turtle nesting sites face threats from predators and human hunting, decreasing endangered sea turtles’ chances of survival. They are also at risk from commercial fisheries, which kill as many as 450,000 sea turtles annually that get caught on the lines or swallow baited hooks.

With an estimated 1% survival rate in the wild, sea turtle hatchlings can use all the help they can get to make their way to the ocean. Home to four sea turtle species (Green Turtles, Leatherbacks, Olive-Ridley, and Hawksbill sea turtles), Ecuador’s coastal MPAs are an important site for sea turtle conservation.

In 2015, WildAid worked with Pacoche park rangers to protect 302 Olive-Ridley nests. We achieved a 63% survival rate with 189 nests that hatched. About 15,000 Olive-Ridley hatchlings made their way to the sea. As part of the project, we educated over 1,000 students from 13 local communities on the importance of sea turtle conservation. The combination of environmental education and beach patrols helped deter poachers and inadvertent damage to the nests.

Our sea turtle conservation project in Pacoche is part of a three-year project to reduce illegal fishing and strengthen protection for marine animals in Ecuador. The plan combats illegal fishing, including long-line and trawl fishing, that threatens endangered species such as sharks, sea turtles, and dolphins. We are implementing the plan at six priority MPAs: Machalilla, Santa Clara, Pacoche, Santa Elena, El Morro and Galera. In addition to the successes of the sea turtle monitoring program in Pacoche, WildAid has accomplished the following results over the past year:

  • Developed a practical control and vigilance strategy for each site;
  • Procured basic surveillance equipment and established regular patrols for improved detection and interception;
  • Developed and delivered comprehensive training workshops for Park Rangers;
  • Established a vessel maintenance system; and
  • Collaborated with an artisanal fishing collaborative in Machalilla to increase support for the MPA.

Looking forward, we will focus on the following project activities in Ecuador in 2016:

  • Installing high power surveillance cameras and AIS (radio-based monitoring equipment) base stations at Machalilla and Santa Clara MPAs;
  • Strengthening Park compliance capacity via systematic training and the provision of supplemental funding for regular MPA enforcement operations; and
  • Continuing sea turtle conservation efforts.

WildAid has helped decrease illegal fishing and increase protection for endangered sea turtles on Ecuador’s coast since 2014. We truly appreciate the support of the Sandler Foundation, Conservation International, the Overbrook Foundation and our other donors on this project.