After our days in the villages, we returned to Misool Eco-Resort for some wrap up interviews and photography.
During my final afternoon, I stood waist deep in the crystal clear water as baby blacktip reef sharks circled me. Their charcoal dipped fins barely broke the surface as their bodies moved and blended with the white sand below. Ten, then fifteen, then twenty sharks streamed through the water just inches from me.
The sharks paid me little attention, as they were busy hunting schools of scad, silvery fish with big eyes (which seemed to grow even bigger as the sharks approached). The sharks worked together, sending the fish scattering and regrouping. Suddenly there was a massive splash as the sharks chased the scad up the beach, hoping to snare one in the shallows. Not this time though, the scads managed to dart back down the sandy decline and the sharks resumed their attentive hunt.
In 2005, when Andy Miners, founder of Misool Eco Resort, first came to Batbitum (the island where the resort now stands) he found the remnants of a shark finning camp. The tiny fins he saw lent evidence that the island’s bay was once a shark nursery ground. Yet, as he dove the area, he didn’t spot any adult sharks nearby, nor a baby shark in the bay. Years of shark finning had devastated shark populations in the region.
Miners hoped that the sharks would return in 10, maybe 20 years. But within only a few years of setting up the eco resort, which included a substantial no-take marine reserve, a baby blacktip reef shark was born in the bay. Last year, the bay harbored a dozen baby sharks, and this year more than twenty.
The transformation of a shark finning camp to a marine reserve and the rapid return of baby blacktip reef sharks is a true testament to the resiliency of marine ecosystems. Knowing these young sharks will go out and populate the waters of Raja Ampat lends hope that despite damage from destructive fishing practices and increasing foreign fishing pressures, Raja Ampat can and will recover.