Sarcophyton coral

This is the seventh 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 Edy Setyawan, CI-Indonesia’s Kaimana marine conservation and science officer, and is cross-posted on CI’s blog.

Another day, another dive site. Our 10-person monitoring team is currently at the Mayalibit Bay marine protected area (MPA) on Waigeo Island.

This MPA covers an area of 53,100 hectares (131,200 acres) that stretches throughout the bay to the estuaries. The elongated shape of the bay almost cuts Waigeo Island in two, and the very narrow opening of the bay makes this area relatively closed off.

With its healthy mangrove forests and seagrass beds, Mayalibit Bay provides a great nursery for mangrove crabs and mackerel. Mackerel is one of the most fished-for species here and is a staple in the diet of the Raja Ampat people. Aside from mackerel, the communities around the bay also harvest shrimp almost on a monthly basis.

We have explored the barrier reef around the opening of the bay that stretches from the east to the south of Waigeo Island. The purpose of monitoring this area is to assess the health of the reefs within and outside the MPA. To do that, we observed the coral coverage and fish population in three different zones: the food security and tourism zone (also known as the “no-take zone,” where fishing is not allowed); the sasi zone, which follows a traditional management practice that seasonally closes certain areas to fishing; and the traditional use and non-MPA zone.

In three days, our team looked at 16 locations; six outside of the MPA, six in no-take zones, and four in traditional use zones. A comprehensive analysis is yet to be made, but early observations indicate that live coral cover varies with an average of 20 percent coverage.

“Some are in good condition, some are not that good,” team member Ronald Mambrasar says. “Very good live coral cover can only be found at 5-7 meter [16-23 foot] depths.”

Gorgonian coral

Some areas have very strong currents, and here we saw many gorgonian sea fans and soft corals. “The coral composition is not very complex and diverse. But each coral reef is unique to Raja Ampat and very important to protect,” Sangeeta Mangubhai of the Conservancy says. This type of coral can only be found in two places in Raja Ampat: Kofiau and Mayalibit Bay. Some branching and massive coral colonies also displayed signs of coral bleaching, though not a significant amount.

Visual observations show that several locations outside the MPA have almost the same fish population size; in fact, several locations show greater fish abundance compared to inside the MPA. We found quite a number of big fishes such as sweetlips and snappers that were more than 45 cm (18 inches) long.

“Compared to monitoring results in several other areas in Raja Ampat, the fish population in the Mayalibit Bay barrier reef is relatively the same,” according to Purwanto of the Conservancy. We often saw bumphead parrotfish, a fish that measures almost a meter long and contributes to the health process of bioerosion. Gray and blacktip reef sharks often keep us company in our dives around the barrier reef. Stay tuned for more on those sleek predators…

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

(First image: Sarcophyton coral. First image credit: Edy Setyawan. Second image: Gorgonian coral. Second image credit: Edy Setyawan.)

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