Three months ago, we began a community monitoring project that aims to empower local Papuan communities to monitor their marine resources and link the data they collect to decisions they make about their local fisheries. Five representatives from Raja Ampat’s Kofiau and Southeast Misool MPAs work with Conservancy staff as Community Monitoring Assistants (CMAs), and we are lucky to have four of them — Ali, Wahab, Andi and Naftali — on our expedition!
A couple of days ago, I learned that two of them were previously compressor fishers who have each spent more time underwater than Jo and I combined! Compressor fishers use a hose to maintain a continuous air supply from the surface, allowing them to remain underwater for long periods of time harvesting marine animals.
Compressor fishing was banned last year in Indonesia because of the impacts the practice has on local fisheries and the method’s associated high health risks. Now, both our CMAs have stopped using compressors and want to learn more about coral reefs and how to help improve the local fisheries their families and communities rely on.
Two of the CMAs — Wahab from the village of Fafanlap and Ali from Harapan Jaya — have been collecting invertebrate data, focusing on key fisheries species (such as sea cucumbers, sea snails, giant clams and lobsters) as well as predators like the crown-of-thorns starfish, which eats live corals.
Wahab and Ali already have such sharp eyes for finding invertebrates hidden in reefs, and we are getting good estimates of the densities and abundance of these species in the marine protected area. They are recording the names in their local language and helping Muhajir and me to match these with the scientific names.
So far, the numbers do not look good — actually, they are depressing. Both Wahab and Ali have recorded less than six animals per dive, which is a strong indicator that many of these species have been over-harvested. With such low numbers, I cannot help but wonder how these animals will successfully reproduce.
Sitting down with Ali at lunch today, he told me he remembers snorkeling as a child and seeing five to 10 giant clams every time he visited his local reefs. He told me Misool used to have a lot of giant clams (Tridacna gigas — or, as it’s known locally, kima), which can grow to be over a meter in length. Now, he lamented, shaking his head, he has seen only one giant kima in 10 consecutive dives. But Ali has hope: he is keen to share the data he is collecting with his local community and work with them to find ways to help these important fisheries recover.
(First image: the expedition team dives at Manta Mountain in Misool; credit: TNC. Second image: the expedition’s CMAs are, from left to right, Naftali, Andi, Ali and Wahab; credit: TNC.)