Posted by: cassandrabrooks | May 16, 2011

New Conservation

As marine resources become depleted elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific, fishers have pushed into Raja Ampat, the island group off of Papau, Indonesian’s easternmost territory.

Dilapidated boats, carrying kilometers of long-line to catch sharks for the shark fin industry, or dynamite, the efficient but highly destructive tool of shortsighted Asian fisheries, are a constant threat.  Already, sharks are scarce throughout the region and large expanses of reef have been blown to bits.

But these outside fishers have no legal permission to be there.  Papuans have traditional economic rights to their marine resources, a law referred to as Hak Adat. Each of Raja Ampat’s 100 villages has exclusive claims to and responsibilities for a specific swath of ocean.

For thousands of years, locals have managed their waters in the sasi tradition, keeping key biological areas off-limits during specific times of the year to ensure the villages will have fish well into the future. As increasing foreign fishing pressures threaten to overwhelm sasi, a handful of villages in Raja Ampat have joined forces with international non-governmental organizations keen on protecting Raja Ampat’s rich biodiversity. Together they are developing new conservation strategies.

During our trip, we worked with Misool Eco Resort and their affiliated non-profit Misool Conservation Centre on Batbitum Island in Southeast Misool, Raja Ampat.  In line with the sasi custom, Misool works with local villages, leasing their traditional waters as a no-take marine protected area.

The resort brings in tourist divers from all over the world which generates revenue to employ locals in the resort and as rangers out patrolling the marine reserve. When poachers are found, their gear may be confiscated and, depending on what they’ve been fishing for, they’ll be escorted to the village to pay a hefty fine.

Our goal with the Last Ocean Project was to make a film that showcases the amazing beauty of Raja Ampat, while highlighting this new model which conserves the marine environment while boosting local economy.  Early next year, we will return to Raja Ampat with a traveling theater showcasing the film in at least a dozen villages and facilitating conversations between locals and NGOs. But first we had to venture to the villages…

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