Who benefits from the Raja Ampat Shark Sanctuary?

Posted on November 29, 2010
Written by: Shark Savers
Tags: Shark Sanctuaries Campaign 

A question has been raised as to whether Shark Sanctuaries lock out local fishermen for the pleasure of divers and conservationists, while protecting sharks. Local villages and their people will be such an important element of the success of the Raja Ampat Shark Sanctuary that we feel it important to clarify its relationship to the surrounding communities.

The goal of the Raja Ampat Shark Sanctuary is to protect sharks and other wildlife. In order to do that effectively, we believe the program needs:

  1. The active participation of the local communities to ensure they are invested in the outcome. Local villagers are not locked out, but are locked-in.
  2. To utilize an appropriate level of underwater ecotourism (diving) as a means to bring jobs to the communities and money to enforcement, while not undermining the conservation goals.

Without both, it's very hard to make a Shark Sanctuary a sustainable, viable solution and the sharks will be gone in short order.

The plan for the Raja Ampat Shark Sanctuary is still being formulated, but it is reliant on both of these pillars. The plan is also drawing from the success story of Misool Eco Resort and other places. The Misool Eco Resort (MER) is both our partner and inspiration for this Shark Sanctuary model. The resort is built on a former shark finning camp and, while a relatively small resort, now employs 60-70 local villagers. MER has its own 468 square mile Marine Conservation Area (MCA) that they established in 2005 that includes reefs and other habitat that are leased from the Villages. 

The protection of the MCA is a cooperative venture with the villages. Former shark fishermen are prominent within the all-local ranger patrol. The rangers have increased status within the villages because they are the protectors of the reef, which figures so prominently in the past, present and future of the villages. Perhaps the respect these rangers receive is due in part to the excellent education campaign that has accompanied the creation of MER's Marine Conservation Area. 

Very importantly, the village fisherman have reported significantly improved catches (except that they leave sharks and mantas alone) in their traditional fishing areas adjacent to the No-Take Zone. These fishermen are both beneficiaries and advocates of the Marine Conservation Area.

Andy Miners, of MER, adds the following regarding local villager and fishermen reaction to both the MER Conservation Area and the new Raja Ampat Shark Sanctuary:

"Local fishermen have not suffered from the creation of our MCA and the new Shark Sanctuary. When Misool Eco Resort first entered into discussions to lease the land for the resort, the local community requested assistance in protecting their reefs and islands from itinerant fishermen who had for decades damaged their reefs with destructive fishing techniques. The MCA was not something that a foreign company “imposed” on a helpless local community. Quite on the contrary, it was, and still is, an active collaboration between the local community and the resort. All the rangers are from the local community and the the resort really acts only as a facilitator, empowering the local communities to protect their birthright.

"Since announcing our extended MCA and the Shark Sanctuary the village leader has informed me that some members of the younger generation in the village have come forward and asked if they can form a patrol post on one of the outlying islands in our MCA. The reason they gave was that they see it as critically important to protect the resources and their inheritance. I should emphasis that this was entirely their initiative and they have not asked for any compensation for either their time or expenses. We shall of course support them in this excellent initiative.

"The local Papuan community are immensely proud and strong people. They are our hosts, and there has never been any question that we are here as their guests and partners only as long as they wish us to be."

Similar integration and education of villages and fishermen is in the planning stage and has been proposed to be included in the legal decree for the much larger Raja Ampat Shark Sanctuary. We have already held meetings with scuba live-aboard boat owners to examine how we can bring village participation even to live-aboards that come to, but are not based in, Raja Ampat. 

There will be no fence around the Raja Ampat Shark Sanctuary. It continues to permit fishing by local, licensed fishermen, except in designated No-Take Zones and key tourism zones, and except for the most vulnerable animals: sharks, mantas, mobulas, turtles, and dugongs. Some 'industrial' fishing methods have been banned and we are working on getting all of them banned.

Well, actually, there will be a 'fence' for fishermen who don't belong there. At least half of the fishing in Raja Ampat is currently being illegally conducted by unlicensed fishermen who come from other parts of Indonesia, the Philippines, or on foreign boats provided by shark fin traders. These are the fishermen who are for the most part conducting the most destructive fishing methods, such as reef bombing, that has now just been outlawed as part of the Shark Sanctuary declaration. The unforgivable destruction of the reefs and wildlife in Raja Ampat is mostly coming from the outside, fueled by the traders of shark fins, live reef fish, and other 'delicacies'. A fisherman may receive only 35 cents for a fin, exploited by the cartels that then sell that fin for many times more than that at their destination. We hope to lock out that trade, the reef bombing, and other destructive practices.

Divers are neither patrolling nor selfishly taking Raja Ampat for themselves, although they are very much a part of the solution. The divers that supported the creation of the Raja Ampat Shark Sanctuary did so because they love the oceans and sharks as a result of their positive and direct experience of them. We are developing a means to ensure diving tourism funds much of the ongoing enforcement of the Sanctuary, is part of the surveillance effort, and directly benefits local communities with higher-paying jobs and trade. Diving is part of an 'ecosystem' of Shark Sanctuary enablers and beneficiaries that include local villages and leaders, government, participating NGOs, scientists, sea and land-based tourism, and conservationists.