Today’s guest blog from WWF scientist Helen Fox is part of a series chronicling a joint coral reef health monitoring trip in Raja Ampat, Indonesia with CI, The Nature Conservancy and WWF. Blogs from this assessment are being cross-posted on the Nature Conservancy’s Cool Green Science blog.
Our long steam back to Sorong is providing a good chance to reflect on our trip. I am so grateful that we have been able to take this trip to monitor reefs outside the marine protected areas (MPAs). As we seek to understand how to ensure sustainable livelihoods and conserve remarkable marine biodiversity, work like this will help explain what works, what doesn’t and why.
A definite highlight has been the camaraderie and skills of the field teams. I am consistently inspired by the enthusiasm, dedication and growing scientific and conservation skills of the Papuan community monitoring staff and Indonesian NGO staff. We have had many informal exchanges learning English and Bahasa Indonesian, identifying the fish we have been seeing, as well as impromptu lessons on statistics, data management and writing papers.
We have also seen some great reefs, alive with diverse fish and corals, many of which appear to be good comparison sites for the MPAs (see previous blogs). We have had great weather and calm seas as we have moved from one beautiful island to the next across this vast archipelago.
In some of the most remote areas, though, we were saddened to discover only vast rubble fields, rather than lush coral gardens with lots of fish. These areas had most likely been heavily blasted — an illegal practice that is difficult to control in more remote reefs. I know from my previous work that these reefs will likely take decades to recover. The ocean current stirs up the reef rubble and shifts it around, making it difficult for new corals to settle and grow. In the meantime, the flat topography of a blasted reef leaves few places for fish to hide.
It is clear from this trip that there is an urgent need for better fisheries management outside MPAs. In addition, it is crucial that enforcement efforts be extended beyond MPAs to other areas in Raja Ampat, to stop further destructive fishing.
I hope that the information we have gathered will be useful for managers and policymakers for many years into the future, as they work towards improving coral reef and fisheries management. This global center of marine biodiversity needs protection in order to continue supporting the abundant biodiversity and people that rely on it.