We are located at the epicentre of marine biodiversity, at the heart of the Coral Triangle
There simply are no richer reefs on earth, and our 1220 sq km (465 sq mi/300,000 acre) No-Take Zone ensures that this region will be preserved for generations to come.
Our first No-Take Zone was established in late 2005, encompassing 425 sq km of reef surrounding our resort island in Southeast Misool. The area was leased directly from the local village of Yellu, located outside the No-Take Zone. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, Papuan villages retain traditional tenure rights over the sea. The villages of Raja Ampat have a long tradition of opening and closing fishing seasons to maximise their yield, called 'sasi.'
However, as the demographics of eastern Indonesia have undergone radical changes in the past 15 years the number of newcomers to Papuan villages has increased dramatically. These shifts have shaken the foundations of Papuan communities, and many traditions, including 'sasi,' are disappearing.
When we first approached the villagers and proposed the idea of a conservation zone, they already understood the inherent benefits and needed no convincing. They asked for our help to preserve their local tradition of 'sasi.'
In 2010, we were approached by community leaders from a second village, asking that we create a conservation area in their tenure area as well. Our No-Take Zone expanded to include the distant islands of Daram, bringing the total protected area to 1220 sq km, roughly twice the size of Singapore. Read more about the Daram Project here.
Patrolling our No-Take Zone
In late 2006, while Misool Eco Resort was under construction, we bought our first dive compressor and started exploring some of the nearby reefs. We visited one of our favourite dive sites, Gorgonian Passage, and experienced that sort of trancendental bliss that visits us on the most beautiful dive sites. On the way back home, still basking in the afterglow, we motored through our No-Take Zone and investigated some beautiful lagoons. And what we found there jarred us back to reality.
There was a shark finning boat anchored inside one of the lagoons, with fins of baby sharks drying on the roof. Underneath the boat were the freshly-finned carcasses of sharks, lolling in the current. The fisherman had strung nets across the opening of the lagoon, which was quite clearly a shark nursery. He presented a handwritten note, giving him permission to fish for sharks for a month in exchange to the equivalent of 35 USD.
We had already been patrolling our No-Take Zone whenever we saw lights on the horizon, but this experience made it very clear to us that we needed a dedicated Patrol Boat manned by local Rangers. With generous support from WildAid, CORAL, and many private donors, we purchased our first Patrol Boat. We continued fundraising to offset the fuel costs and Ranger salaries. In 2010, we established the charity wing of our operation, Misool Baseftin. We received another generous grant to expand our No-Take Zone, purchase our second Patrol Boat, and hire a second Patrol team. We also received funds to build a kindergarten in one of the local villages. You can read more about the kindergarten project here.
In 2010, our Rangers and the local community created a punitive system for offenders. Any fishing boats found inside our No Take Zone are escorted by our Rangers back to the local village. Usually these boats are not from the localy community but from other parts of Indonesia. The boats are then impounded and any catch is confiscated. The community leaders assemble a traditional Papuan court and levy a steep fine. The fine is quite steep, usually several months' wages per vessel. This fine then enters the community coffers. The incidence of infractions in our No-Take Zone is now extremely low, and local support remains high. In this way, we also support the traditional power structures of a Papuan village.
We believe ours is a conservation success story in which regular people create change. It is our great hope to leave Raja Ampat even better than we found it, and perhaps inspire a few more folks along the way to do the right thing.