Note: the following post is the last in a series chronicling the ongoing expedition to the Raja Ampat Islands. Read more here.
As Jo and I sit on the top deck of the Putiraja watching Misool’s karst islands disappear behind us, we finally have time to reflect on the last 15 days.
Each of the expedition’s ten participants have gone on 40 dives. Between the two teams, we’ve covered 80 sites in some of the most diverse coral reefs on the planet. We have so much data that will help us better understand the health of the reefs and that can be used to complete the zoning plan for the MPA. We also have data that will help predict Misool’s potential resilience to future climate change impacts.
So did the expedition live up to our expectations? I think we came away from the expedition with mixed feelings. Misool is without question stunning, both above and below the water — there were dives we did that kept us buzzing for hours after we returned to the surface. The network of limestone karst with hidden channels and lagoons is like a maze that you want to just get lost in and explore!
But even in this remote corner of the ocean, there were also clear signs of overexploitation as well as reefs damaged by past bomb fishing. The lack of sharks on most of our dives was profoundly disturbing for the team, as it is clear that overfishing is pushing local populations to extinction.
But there are strong positive signs too. The coral communities are healthy and virtually free of disease and we found plenty of sea turtles, productive fish populations within the MPA’s only no-take zone and vibrant fish nurseries for groupers and parrotfish.
The positives extend to people, as well. The local community members who joined our expedition were once illegal fishermen and now are active conservationists. Plus, the arrangement between Misool Eco Resort and local villages to protect and manage large areas of reef while improving livelihoods is a great success.
We are currently supporting the local government to develop management plans for all the marine protected areas in Raja Ampat. This will give local communities their first opportunity to voice their opinions on how their own local resources should be managed and who should have access to them.
By combining scientific information we’re collecting with the communities’ local knowledge of the area and their resources, we can make decisions that help stop any further declines and give the reefs a chance to recover. There is hope!
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: Sunset at Jef Pele. First image credit: TNC. Second image: Local family from Jef Pele. Second image credit: TNC. Third image: Sangeeta and Jo. Third image credit: TNC.)