Marine Life & Oceans

A Network Of Marine Protected Areas In Bird’s Head Seascape, Papua

Photo courtesy of Shawn Heinrichs, Conservation International

On the northwestern edge of Papua New Guinea, in the Indonesian province of West Papua, lies Bird’s Head Seascape. This remote, hard to reach area covers more than 225,000 square kilometers of lush, verdant rainforests, intact and pristine mangroves, and healthy, abundant coral reefs. Nestled in the heart of the Coral Triangle, Bird’s Head Seascape is home to more than 1,500 species of reef fish and 600 species of corals. It also lists whales, dolphins, dugongs, and saltwater crocodiles among its many residents and is critical habitat for nesting Pacific leatherback turtles. The seascape’s abundant resources provide food and economic security for its more than 750,000 residents.

But Bird’s Head was not always the biodiverse, healthy seascape that it is today. In the 1990s, illegal and unregulated commercial fishing and destructive artisanal fishing practices decimated coral reefs, and fishermen were reporting a 90% decrease in the amount of catch they received, threatening the economic security of many inhabitants. 

In 2014, LDF grantee Conservation International’s (CI) helped launch the Bird’s Head Seascape Initiative to restore and protect this unique “ridge to reef” ecosystem. Along with the Indonesian government and other community-based organizations, CI has helped establish a network of marine protected areas, including the most recent Fam Island MPA, which was formally declared in February 2017 by indigenous Papuan community leaders and the Raja Ampat Regency Government. These MPAs not only help replenish fish stocks and act as a buffer against climate change, but also employ and empower local community members. The Fam Wonder Women Patrol team, the first ever women’s community patrol team in Raja Ampat, is strengthening enforcement efforts and decreasing illegal fishing activity as well as increasing the confidence of Papuan women and empowering them to play a greater role in their communities.

Over 12 years, CI and its partners have protected more than 36,000 square kilometers of Bird’s Head Seascape’s waters and provided countless educational and employment opportunities for its inhabitants. They continue to work closely with indigenous communities to protect their natural resources and are developing methods to ensure these protections now and into the future.

The Bird’s Head Seascape Initiative is a global model for successful community-driven conservation at scale. LDF seeks to build upon this success over the next three years and extend the protected marine area by an additional 70,000 hectares while also providing support for local communities and partners to effectively manage the protected areas.

LDF supports the following activities in the Bird’s Head Seascape that will significantly reduce illegal fishing activity:

  • Active patroling, monitoring, and evaluation of the marine areas.
  • Environmental education of the surrounding communities to build support for marine conservation.
  • Developing sustainable livelihood initiatives that allow local communities to see direct benefit from marine conservation.
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