For the last four days, the team has been diving in a 425-square-kilometer no-take zone that was established by Misool Eco Resort and local communities through a marine conservation (or lease) agreement 6 years ago. In this no-take zone, removing fish, sharks, shells, turtles or turtle eggs is prohibited.
Local Conservancy staff members Purwanto and Muhajir have been collecting data from reefs inside and outside the no-take zone for two years now. The reefs were healthy when the no-take zone was first established, and data Muhajir has collected shows that the reef communities have remained healthy and stable, with no decline in coral cover.
Purwanto is a mega fish geek, and you cannot wipe the smile off his face today. He surveyed a potential grouper spawning aggregation in the morning where he recorded 40 male coral trout that appeared to have recently spawned. At lunch, when he took the team to an isolated submerged pinnacle that had not previously been surveyed, his smile was even bigger. We dived with swarms of fish, including oceanic triggerfish, fusiliers, surgeonfish, snappers, trevallies and barracuda. On the top of the pinnacle we saw triton triggerfish guarding nests with pink eggs and cleaner stations where Napoleon wrasses were getting their gills cleaned!
Our surveys are clearly showing an increased biomass of fish in sites where there are strong currents. This is particularly evident within the snapper and grouper populations. Prior to the establishment of the no-take zone, the larger individuals were fished out; now, the population’s age range is more balanced, including juveniles through to mature adults.
The no-take zone is also the only area so far in the marine protected area where we have seen sharks. It’s thrilling to see the reef shark populations rebound, especially here in Indonesia, which has the largest shark fishery in the world. According to Andy Miners from Misool Eco Resort, “It’s also quite common these days to see numerous baby sharks cruising around shallow lagoons, sometimes in groups of 15 to 20 individuals.”
We also had the opportunity today to meet with Jainudin Bahale and Rajak Tamher, who are part of the local team that patrols the no-take area. These guys are literally on watch 24 hours a day and do not hesitate to jump in their boat if they see there are boats in the no-take zone.
The local rangers also patrol for other types of destructive activities, like reef bombing, long lining and cyanide fishing. Meeting the rangers was a unique opportunity to share some of our preliminary findings from the no-take zone and to thank the ranger team for their commitment to patrolling the area.
As I reflect on today, I cannot help but feel a little more positive and lighter inside. Yes, the sad reality is that there are very few no-take zones working in Indonesia, or even globally, for that matter. But today was one of those inspiring moments for me, Joanne and the team.
We were reminded that we can turn the tide of change — that marine protected areas, if designed correctly, can help reefs recover and become productive again and that there are innovative ways to do conservation beyond what governments and NGOs have historically done. Here in Misool we have an example of how partnerships between private sector and community can result in win-win situations for local fisheries and conserving biodiversity.
Explore further coverage of this expedition on nature.org and learn more about the Conservancy’s involvement in the game-changing Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security.
(First image: Snappers swimming in the no-take zone. First image credit: TNC. Second image: Sangeeta, Wahab and Ali meet the Misool Ecoresort ranger team. Second image credit: TNC.)