This is the sixth in a multi-part series chronicling the 2012 trip to monitor the health of coral reefs in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. This year, Conservancy scientists are traveling to Raja Ampat alongside colleagues from CI and WWF.

This post was authored by the Conservancy’s Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai (@smangubhai).

Early this morning, we arrived at the lush tropical island of Batangpele, close to the equator.

This island gives us the opportunity to test out how well our cell phones work at recording underwater data. It also gives us a chance to do “manta tow” training. The manta tow is a monitoring technique wherein a diver is actually pulled along by a rope attached to the monitoring boat.

Manta towing in action

We were hoping that reefs in this area would act as great “outside MPA” sites—sites we could compare against the Kofiau MPA in southern Raja Ampat. We were not disappointed. Similar to Kofiau, the coral communities around this island were healthy.

We dived over extensive thickets of delicate branching Acropora and foliose (cabbage leaf) corals, as well as large Porites (many of which were over two meters in diameter and likely more than 200 years old). Acropora colonies create great habitat for small fish and invertebrate species, and the reefs we dived on were teeming with small colorful fish. While the coral and small fish life were healthy and thriving, the reefs were sadly devoid of large fish, especially groupers, trevallies, snappers and sweetlips.

At lunch, the Muslim staff headed to the local village for prayers and got the opportunity to interact with some of the local villagers. There are only 50 families that live out in these remote islands, and many of them are of Bugis or Butonese decent. Because of their isolation, these communities are highly reliant on their reefs to meet their food needs. This is why the local government, NGOs and local communities are establishing marine protected areas in other parts of Raja Ampat to better manage local fisheries important for food security.

We’re slowly starting to get a better feel for how well reefs in the region are doing. Stay tuned for some of our conclusions…

Learn more about the Conservancy’s involvement in the game-changing Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security.

(First image: Batangpele in Raja Ampat. First image credit: Sangeeta Mangubhai/TNC. Second image: Manta towing in action. Second image credit: Gabby Ahmadia. Third image: Acropora coral. Third image credit: Gabby Ahmadia.)

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