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.

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.

Mexican Fishermen Team Up With Scientists to Save the Vaquita

WildAid and Monitoreo Vaquita protect the Mexican vaquita from extinction by removing gill nets that entangle the vaquita and tracking their population.

The world’s smallest porpoise is on the brink of extinction. The vaquita marina (little sea cow) is only found in the Northern Sea of Cortez and less than 30 individuals remain (a dramatic decrease from last year). While fishermen do not target the vaquita directly, its numbers are decreasing due to entanglements in gillnets.

Between 1990-2010, gillnets used to catch Mexican shrimp resulted in the loss of over 70% of the vaquita population. At that point, fishermen increased the use of gillnets within the vaquita habitat to fulfill the latest fad: the resurging hunt for the endangered totoaba fish and its prized swim bladder.

In China, a single totoaba swim bladder can sell for as much as $31,000-50,000 on the black market. As a result, many local fishermen are willing to risk capture by authorities in an attempt to cash in before the totoaba itself is gone. In 2015, the Mexican government enacted a two-year ban on the use of gillnets in the vaquita habitat and permanently banned them this year. However, due to lax enforcement and legal loopholes, the vaquitas’ numbers continued to plummet.

WildAid is helping to protect the vaquita by reducing demand for totoaba and improving enforcement in Mexico through a partnership with Monitoreo Vaquita, a group of local fishermen, to remove gill nets that entangle the vaquita and track their population.

Since 2010, Monitoreo Vaquita have placed 84 hydrophones in the water and worked with international scientists to determine accurate population counts for the vaquita. This data is used to make scientifically-based policy and management decisions.

In addition to their scientific research, Monitoreo Vaquita has removed 115 gill nets from vaquita habitat in the past year. Each net could weigh up to 800 lbs and creates a deadly hazard for any vaquita in the area as it sits in the water column. The situation is fraught with risk and some of the fishers have been threatened by poachers.

Through our partnership, we hope to expand the work of Monitoreo Vaquita with the purchase of additional hydrophones and support for their patrols.

A New Patrol Vessel for Machalilla National Park in Ecuador

WildAid donates a patrol boat to Machalilla National Park to expand humpback whale rescues and decrease illegal fishing.

Isla de la Plata in Machalilla National Park has some of the most biodiverse and productive waters on Ecuador’s coast. Known for spectacular wildlife sightings including giant mantas, humpback whales, sharks and sea turtles, it is not uncommon to see tourist vessels taking visitors to the island by day and illegal fishing boats by night. WildAid assisted the park this month in acquiring a new patrol vessel to protect these waters from illegal fishing.

The Rangers at Machalilla risk their lives every day to patrol the waters surrounding Isla de la Plata, removing ghost nets (fishing nets that have been left or lost in the ocean by fishermen) to prevent accidental bycatch and intercepting illegal fishing. Additionally, the Rangers started a humpback whale rescue program to rescue whales entangled in illegal fishing gear, as well as a wildlife rehabilitation hospital to treat injured marine wildlife along the coast.

Last year, WildAid helped the Machalilla Park Rangers increase surveillance of the area by installing a long-range camera and AIS at Isla de la Plata. However, the Park Rangers only had access to one patrol boat to travel from the mainland control center to the island station. Thus, if surveillance equipment spotted illegal fishing activity near Isla de la Plata, a patrol boat could take up to three hours to intercept the fishers, who would be long-gone by then.

In response, WildAid procured a patrol vessel for use specifically at Isla de la Plata to ensure that Rangers stationed there had quick access to better intercept illegal fishers. In addition to its help in enforcement activities, the new vessel will be crucial for the expansion of the humpback whale rescue program. As the majority of humpback whales that visit this region of Ecuador congregate in the waters surrounding Isla de la Plata, the risk of encountering illegal fishing gear there is greater than closer to the mainland. Last year, Machalilla Park Rangers rescued five whales that had been entangled in fishing lines and nets and this year expect to increase rescues due to the new patrol vessel.

This work is part of a three-year project in Ecuador to reduce illegal fishing in six of its coastal marine protected areas. Our work includes a comprehensive marine protection plan for each site, support for regular patrols, surveillance equipment, training for Rangers and fisher/ community outreach.

WildAid has helped decrease illegal fishing on Ecuador’s coast since 2014 thanks to the support of the Sandler Foundation, Conservation International, the Walton Family Foundation, the Overbrook Foundation and the Stellar Blue Fund.

A New Canine Unit to Protect the Galapagos from Invasive Species

WildAid and the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency launch a canine unit to prevent the spread of invasive species in the Galapagos islands.

Rex undergoing training.

Invasive species pose one of the greatest threats to the conservation of the Galapagos Islands. That’s why together with the Galapagos Conservancy, WildAid helped the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency (ABG) form a specialized canine unit to protect these unique islands from invasive species.

In 2016, we selected and trained two dogs and three handlers, as well as constructed the necessary infrastructure (kennels and offices) for the unit. The canine unit will provide a versatile and low cost method of detecting illegal substances to prevent their entry into the Galapagos archipelago.

The first stage of the training was done in Quito, where the dogs spent three months training in the identification of nine odors selected by the ABG because they are prohibited from entering the Galapagos, but are commonly found on passengers attempting to smuggle them onto the islands, including oranges, dragon fruit, and passion fruit.

The dogs were tested on their success in detection and their adaptability by identifying the odors in different locations. Unfortunately, one of the canines presented some skin sensitivity issues during this phase and had to be returned to the organization Cobra Canina for a replacement. The new canine is expected to arrive in the next few months.

The canine handlers.

The second phase of the program was done in Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos and consisted in the selection and training of canine handlers. A pool of 11 candidates underwent a rigorous selection process, and of those we selected three canine handlers. The process included basic personality tests, psychomotricity tests (the relation between mental and physical processes) and other aptitude tests to select the best candidates.

After their selection, the three candidates were trained in basic care and maintenance of the canines and their kennels, storage of scent samples, canine handling techniques for detection of target scents including general search strategies in large areas, open areas, closed areas, proper walking techniques and reintroduction of scents.

Over the next few months, we will conduct onsite training at airports and ports for the canine teams and problem correction, as well as conduct initial training for the replacement canine from Cobra Canina for his introduction to the unit. The unit will officially launch in April with three handlers and two canines.

Thanks to the support of IGTOA and the Helmsley Charitable Trust, as well as our partners Galapagos Conservancy and the ABG, this canine unit will act as a strong and unobtrusive tool in the identification of hidden organic products in passenger luggage and cargo upon entry to the archipelago. The prevention of these products, along with our work in biosecurity in the Galapagos, could signify a decrease in the spread of invasive species or diseases that could affect the biodiversity, human health and agricultural development of the Galapagos Islands.

Protecting Palau’s Marine Environment

WildAid, TNC and the Palau Conservation Society host a two-week workshop for Northern Reefs marine wardens to promote best practices in surveillance and operations of their reserve and prepare for new legislation.

The small island nation of Palau, located in the Western Pacific Ocean between the Philippines and Indonesia, is building on its already-strong support for marine conservation. Last month, two states in Palau’s Northern Reefs are ensuring that artisanal fishing is done in a sustainable fashion with a greater degree of enforcement and accountability from its citizens. Previous legislation includes the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009 and a declaration in 2015 that over 80% of its waters would be protected as a marine sanctuary.

Palau’s coral reefs, part of the Coral Triangle, have been named one of the Seven Underwater Wonders of the World. They boast more than 500 species of corals, 1,300 species of reef fish and numerous endangered species such as the dugong, saltwater crocodile, sea turtles, and giant clams.

Palauans have a long history of bul, a traditional ban where village leaders set aside small areas to recover from fishing practices and only fish what their families need to survive. However, due to the increase in tourism and fishing pressures, new laws can bring extractive activities under control in an attempt to let threatened fish species, such as tiau, recover. Along with national regulations protecting specific endangered species, and the new marine sanctuary, Kayangel and Ngarchelong state recently enacted new regulations that require fishing permits to fish within their waters and set minimum catch sizes for threatened species. This law provides clear penalties for illegal fishers and grants state rangers greater power to protect their marine environment.

Last month, WildAid visited Palau to host a two-week workshop with The Nature Conservancy and Palau Conservation Society for the Kayangel and Ngachelong state rangers. This workshop built off a training held in 2015 and emphasized best practices for patrolling, evidence collection and boarding procedures. It also included hands-on exercises allowing the rangers to brainstorm ways to increase compliance, plan community outreach projects, role-play different scenarios, learn new navigation techniques and ensure that illegal activities are penalized.

Enforcement of Palau’s marine regulations ensures that both Palau’s citizens and visitors harvest its resources sustainably and protect its coral reefs from additional stressors. Systematic training is an important component of WildAid’s marine program and the enforcement of Palau’s waters because it ensures continuity in these programs and collaboration between enforcement agencies.

Thanks to the support of our donors, WildAid has been working in Palau since 2014 to help strengthen enforcement of the Northern Reef states of Kayangel and Ngarchelong, prevent illegal fishing and ensure the protection of its pristine marine environments.

Machalilla National Park and WildAid Partner to Save Humpback Whales

Park rangers in Ecuador’s Machalilla National Park have just completed their fourth year of rescuing humpback whales, which are often found entangled in fishing gear. So far, park rangers have saved 13 whales, including four rescues this year alone.

From June through September, humpback whales are a prominent sight along the coast of Ecuador where they travel thousands of miles to take advantage of the temperate waters to mate and birth their calves. Every June, the community of Puerto Lopez celebrates their return with the annual humpback whale festival. Their arrival is cause for celebration for the small community of Puerto Lopez, which heavily depends on revenue from whale watching tourism.

According to a study by the Pacific Whale Foundation, whale watching is one of world’s fastest-growing tourism sectors, and one that brings tens of millions of dollars in tourism revenue to coastal Ecuador. Nearly 60% of tourists in Machalilla are driven by the humpback whale breeding season off the coast of Isla de la Plata, making the park one of Ecuador’s top tourist destinations.

However, humpback whales and other large marine animals including sharks, sea turtles and mantas are threatened by unsustainable fishing methods, illegal fishing and climate change. Thousands of whales and cetaceans die every year as bycatch. Humpback whales, attracted by krill and small marine species, often get entangled in fishing lines or nets, which can cause the animals to drown.

In response, in 2013 Machalilla National Park authorities established a whale rescue unit that has been trained in procedures for entangled whales, using special tools to free them. The park rangers also developed an outreach component to inform tour operators and other boat captains about the program so that they can report whales in need of help.

Thanks to the support of our donors, WildAid is helping the park rangers at Machalilla to prevent illegal fishing, and also launch operational missions, including humpback whale rescues. We work directly with park rangers to train and support them in their work, underwrite operations, enforce tourism regulations, arrest illegal fishers and deliver outreach campaigns to educate local communities on the benefits of a healthy marine environment and the importance of reducing fishing pressures in specific areas.

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.

Protecting Marine Wildlife in an Ecuadorian Sanctuary

An update on sea turtle conservation and marine patrols in Santa Elena MPA in Ecuador.

WildAid is visiting Ecuador’s coastal marine protected areas (MPAs) this week, where we’ve been working for the past year and a half with Conservation International. One of these sites is Santa Elena MPA, the western-most point of Ecuador and home to hundreds of species including humpback whales, sea turtles, sharks, mantas, albatrosses, pelicans and 86 fish species.

Injured blue footed booby nursed back to health by Santa Elena MPA park rangers (Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment).
Injured blue footed booby nursed back to health by Santa Elena MPA park rangers (Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment).

Fishing pressure has increased in Santa Elena since 2009 with the growth of artisanal and commercial fishing efforts that create conflicts between the two sectors and fishing modernization incentives that often endorse non-selective fishing gear. These types of gear are responsible for much of the bycatch in the area and threaten sea turtles, humpback whales and sharks that get caught on longlines or nets. Increasing tourism, currently an estimated 50,000 tourists per year, also threatens the ecosystems through pollution, destruction of habitats and the introduction of invasive species.

We developed an enforcement plan for Santa Elena that focuses on conservation priorities of the area. As per the plan, Santa Elena park wardens carry out both preventive and control measures to protect the reserve’s marine wildlife.

Preventive activities include identifying and protecting endangered sea turtle nests and releasing an estimated 3,000 hatchlings annually, organizing and conducting marine and coastal clean-ups to remove plastics and other debris, as well as conducting outreach activities geared towards local fishers and surrounding communities on park rules and regulations.

An important component of these activities is collecting data from stranded wildlife to track patterns in frequency and cause to identify new threats. Park rangers also nurse injured animals back to health and re-release them back to sea. Those that can’t be saved undergo necropsies to understand the cause of death and to develop preventative strategies.

Control activities include preventing commercial vessels from entering the reserve, monitoring tourism vessels, confiscating illegal gill nets to decrease bycatch of endangered species, such as humpback whales, as well as ensuring artisanal fishers comply with local sea cucumber, lobster and zoning regulations.

Over the past year, Santa Elena Rangers carried out over 225 maritime patrols with a total of 78 infractions broken down in the following manner. Approximately 73% of all cited infractions were sanctioned by the Provincial office. This is crucial as often times there is little to no follow-up or penalties associated with violations.

This year, WildAid will help them increase their patrols to further prevent the use of gill nets and increase the number of sea turtle hatchlings protected from predators and human interference. Building off our work in Pacoche MPA, we will aid park rangers in improving their signage and developing community education programs to encourage sea turtle conservation, as well as promote sustainable fishing methods.

Because of your support, WildAid helps protect endangered species in Ecuador.

Saving Injured Sea Turtles in Ecuador

WildAid partners with the Machalilla Wildlife Hospital to rescue and rehabilitate injured sea turtles and other marine wildlife on Ecuador’s coast.

We’re excited to announce that WildAid has now partnered with the Machalilla wildlife hospital in Ecuador to provide comprehensive protection for sea turtles.

The seven species of sea turtle found today have been around for 110 million years. Unfortunately, six of those species are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List as endangered or critically endangered, primarily due to longline fisheries, harvesting of turtle meat and eggs, predation and habitat degradation, among others.

Did you know that the temperatures of the sand at sea turtle nesting sites determines the gender of the hatchlings? Cooler temperatures are mostly males and warmer temperatures are mostly females. (Laura Wais)

After spending many years at sea (females from different species reach maturity at different ages, with some as old as 20-50 years of age), sea turtles return to the same spots to nest– migrating as far as 1400 miles between their feeding and nesting grounds.

Ecuador’s beaches provide an ideal nesting spot for four sea turtle species (Green Turtles, Leatherbacks, Olive-Ridley and critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtles). Over the past year, we’ve partnered with park rangers along Ecuador’s coast on various sea turtle conservation projects that include underwriting at-sea patrols, removing abandoned drift nets, marking and protecting nests from predators, releasing more than 15,000 sea turtle hatchlings into the sea, and educating the local community about the importance of sea turtles.

Sea turtles, which can live up to 80 years, are an important part of a healthy marine ecosystem and can generate more than one million dollars in annual tourism revenue. This year, WildAid is expanding sea turtle conservation efforts by working with a grassroots wildlife rehabilitation hospital at Machalilla National Park that has treated nearly 150 sea turtles, 10 sea lions and 300 sea birds over the last four years.

Sea turtles treated in the wildlife rehabilitation hospital suffer from various injuries including lesions and internal damage by fishing hooks or from getting trapped in or consuming marine debris/plastics. The wildlife hospital volunteers treat injured marine wildlife from the entire country’s coast.

A sea turtle recovering in Machalilla’s wildlife hospital.

It is the only facility of its kind in Ecuador and was previously funded from t-shirt sales and donations from the community. With improved infrastructure and equipment provided by WildAid, the hospital will expand operations to provide more marine wildlife with a second chance at life. Currently, there are 17 resident turtles undergoing treatment and with our support, veterinarians will be able to treat up to 27 turtles over the next year.

Work with sea turtle populations provides an opportunity to inform our future work in Machalilla, as well as that of other regions. Data collected may include trends in wildlife injuries, infectious diseases, migration patterns, systemic medical issues, and human-animal interactions, among others. This data can help inform and educate tourism and fishing policy, and provide best practices for managing Ecuador’s MPAs and fisheries to conserve the country’s marine biodiversity.