This is the tenth 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).

For the last two days the team has been diving on some of the most spectacular reefs we’ve seen so far on this trip — stunning coral formations fringing the island with long ridges that wind their way along the coast and drop sharply down into deep blue water along Penemu Island. At 25m black tip sharks patrol the reefs, and Anthias and fusiliers fill the water column. We have been loving our “safety stops” in the shallows, lush undersea gardens thick with corals and darting fish.

These areas have recently been protected in two ‘no-take zones’ established as part of a ‘marine conservation agreement’ between local communities and Sea Sanctuaries Trust. The no-take zones cover 70,000 hectares of diverse coral reefs and mangrove forests, and include a number of reefs that are famous and popular amongst divers that visit Raja Ampat.

In exchange for the community setting aside this diverse and rich area for conservation for 25 years, Sea Sanctuaries has established several sustainable eco-businesses which are 100% owned by the villagers and are creating local wealth as an alternative to destructive fishing. Now tourists can buy virgin coconut soap and oil from the villagers. Other villagers are employed as rangers to enforce the rules of the no-take zones. This initiative could not be timelier — these reefs were increasingly being targeted by outside bomb fishers, and shark finning boats were stripping the reefs of Penemu of this important top predator.

In preparation for monitoring the reefs in the marine conservation agreement area, I spoke to the founders of Sea Sanctuaries Trust, Ms Helen Newman and Mr Simon Day last month. They were excited to tell me about a new village law being prepared that will allow the local villagers to call on the Navy or Police to stop fishermen from encroaching in the no-take zones. They are hopeful that these conservation areas will provide a significant contribution to the conservation of species and help improve fisheries in adjacent areas.

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

(First image: A crinoid feather star hitches a ride on Ronald Mambrasar (Conservation International). First image credit: Sangeeta Mangubhai/TNC. Second image: Rich underwater reefs in the Penemu Marine Conservation Agreement area. Second image credit: Gabby Ahmadia.)

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