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.

Community Education in South Raja Ampat

The Misool Community Education Program prioritizes early childhood education in local villages and is at the heart of our conservation philosophy. In 2011, in partnership with Seacology and WildAid, Misool Foundation built a kindergarten in the village of Fafanlap, about 75 minutes from Misool resort island in South Raja Ampat.

The 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.

The kindergarten helps kids 4 to 6 prepare for school through a curriculum that increases student literacy and subsequently reduces student dropout rates. The Kindergarten now has 44 registered students and employs three teachers who focus on learning through play and teaching the children about the environment.

Manta and Whale Shark Research in Lamakera, Indonesia

Lamakera village was one of the world’s top manta hunting site– previously landing over 1,000 mantas in a single season. In 2014, this small fishing village and all of Indonesia was declared a manta sanctuary. Together with WildAid, Misool Foundation has been working in Lamakera for the past three years to help manta fishermen find alternative livelihoods to ensure the success of the new sanctuary.

Since then, 80% of the former manta fishers have been trained as manta researchers, enforcement officials or in new sustainable fisheries. The new research program has helped educate the community on the benefits of mantas, whale sharks and other marine animals for the ocean and as a draw for ecotourism. We are currently building a research center and photographing and tagging these animals to identify them and track their migratory patterns to ensure their protection across the entire route.

You can help us in this crucial work with funding for additional equipment and training for new researchers and community rangers.

Protect Palau’s coral reefs and prevent illegal fishing

The small island nation of Palau, located in the Western Pacific Ocean between the Philippines and Indonesia, has paved the way for marine conservation. It created the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009 and in 2015 declared that over 80% of its waters would be protected as a marine sanctuary.

Palau’s park rangers conduct daily patrols to prevent illegal fishing and protect more than 500 species of coral, 1,300 species of reef fish and numerous endangered species such as the dugong, saltwater crocodile, sea turtles, and giant clams. Enforcement of Palau’s marine environment ensures sustainable use of its resources and protects its coral reefs from additional stressors.

You can help protect Palau’s incredible marine biodiversity by helping us assure a regular patrol schedule in the Northern Reefs area, improved training for park rangers and equipment purchases for safe and effective patrols. Together, these can increase the quality and quantity of patrols.

How to Strengthen Community Support for Marine Conservation

As Palau transitions from traditional to legislative management of their marine areas, we explore how to foster this change in culture and emphasize the authority of newly appointed marine wardens.

During our latest visit to Palau, a beautiful island nation between the Philippines and Indonesia, WildAid’s marine team explored some interesting approaches to strengthening support for marine conservation.

One of the greatest concerns among the nations we work with is how to ensure that communities support and respect marine regulations. In developing nations especially, communities often rely on marine resources to supply both daily nutrition and their economic livelihood. In coastal communities, fishing is a way of life and regulations can be seen as an intrusion into local tradition. Thus, community interactions must be important considerations in any enforcement plan.

Boarding practice at Ngarchelong

Historically, Palauan people protected the ocean via a concept known as bul whereby village chiefs declared bans on fishing at the first sight of resource scarcity. However, as populations grew and culture evolved, traditional management systems have given way to regulations grounded in legislation. This transition is by no means easy as fostering change in culture takes time and the new marine wardens anticipate challenges to their authority based on their youth and resistance to the new regulations.

To resolve this challenge, we explored methods to bolster their authority. For example, in Palau, as in other countries, an authoritative stance, voice and knowledge of regulations help assure that the community respects the marine wardens. Our training emphasized studying the regulations, creating a personal script to introduce themselves and establish their credentials, as well as practicing their duties.

Likewise, we emphasized the role of community leaders in helping the marine wardens gain respect and compliance. Palau is a small nation and so communities see each other as family. Youth often call elders aunt or uncle, and their peers cousin. We suggested appealing to the “auntie” network in their community outreach because Palau is a matriarchal society and thus the women command the greatest respect. This strategy would help ensure community pressure to respect the wardens and regulations. We also discussed other places to educate the community about the new regulations and their importance. Marine wardens worked on sample scripts and content for various tools such as brochures, radio ads, and even stickers to help boat captains adhere to catch sizes.

These types of methods have been applied successfully in Indonesia, where we work with local non-profit Baseftin. New protections for mantas dramatically changed the community of Lamakera’s economic structure. Baseftin worked with university students and village elders to bolster compliance and lend credibility to their work. They provided training on alternative livelihoods and created an internship program with local students to assist in community outreach and produced a series of videos and posters to educate the community about new regulations. Because of this focused approach, compliance with the new regulations in Lamakera has been largely adopted and manta conservation has generated widespread support in the region.

Hands-on training in Palau

Overall, compliance requires both community will and effective enforcement. While the marine wardens in Palau continue to educate their communities and appeal to leaders, WildAid is helping to bolster enforcement in the Northern Reef states with comprehensive training and the tools needed to protect their natural resources. Over the next year, we will install a surveillance camera at Palau’s most important port and install a radar at one of the Northern Reef sites to better monitor fishing activity from Koror to the Northern Reefs. Additionally, we will help create effective patrol routes and provide necessary patrol tools, such as safety equipment, navigation tools, and important legislation to ensure punishment for lawbreakers.

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.