Ridge to Reef: Conservation in West Papua, Indonesia

Kaimana CI monitoring staff Yasser and Bastien with a Venu turtle guard. (© CI/Photo by Matthew Fox)

After a series of red-eye flights spanning the Indonesian archipelago, we touch down in the land of sunsets.

I am on my way to Kaimana in Indonesia’s West Papua province with my colleagues Keith Lawrence, Laure Katz and Kristin Bergantz. For several years, CI’s Birds Head Seascape program has worked with Kaimana community leaders to conserve the region’s marine assets. But protecting the water is not enough — in the next five years, we hope to extend our engagement to the land through an integrated “ridge-to-reef” conservation approach. But before we do that, we need to learn more about the issues at hand.

Our first stop is the tiny uninhabited island of Venu, where we will overnight. Venu is a significant nest site for hawskbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas).

Our boat is greeted by the local community “turtle guards” on arrival. We learn that in the eight months CI has supported the guards, more than 800 turtles have successfully nested, and egg poaching has come to a halt.

Limestone karsts in the Triton Bay Marine Protected Area, Kaimana. (© CI/Photo by Matthew Fox)

The presence of the guards seems to have deterred illegal fishers too. Snorkeling at dusk, we see healthy schools of fish — big fish — patrolling a reef that still bears the scars of earlier bomb fishing. Later, we watch a green turtle come ashore to lay her eggs in the soft white sands — the first of five that night.

An early rise and we’re off to our next stop: Tementoi Field Station. CI-Indonesia established the base five years ago, and it’s now home to a team of local marine scientists and outreach specialists. We meet Lobo clan members to talk conservation, and learn that local tenure systems include marine and terrestrial areas, where vital natural resources are managed under consensus clan law.

We all agree that by better managing the lands and reducing runoff and sedimentation, we can secure local livelihoods while protecting the delicate reefs. There is hope too that Kaimana’s isolated beauty and world-class diving will soon bring paying international visitors.

Kaimana is indeed a stunning setting. Horizons are dominated by corrugated mountain ranges formed by severe tectonic compression. Within the Triton Bay Marine Protected Area, geometric rock formations rise above the azure waters like misplaced, ancient pyramids. Spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) and baitfish schools break the surface, while below soft corals and big fish dominate. Our survey work continues to identify areas of staggering biodiversity, including the reef that saw 330 fish species recorded in a single dive — the highest single dive fish count ever recorded anywhere.

Soft corals in the Triton Bay Marine Protected Area, Kaimana. (© Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock)

Returning by boat through the Namatota Strait, we pull up alongside an ancient rock art gallery. Ochre fish and prints of human hands are rendered side by side, reflecting a culture defined over hundreds of generations. Evidence suggests that West Papua may have been populated for 40,000 years or more. When asked how long people have lived in Kaimana, locals simply answer “forever.”

On the future, my colleague Keith says “Kaimana has great potential to demonstrate the benefits of good natural resource management — the local government is showing really progressive thinking. It’s still relatively pristine, but it is also at a crossroads as development pressures are poised to increase rapidly.”

The mainstream economy is weaving its way into Kaimana. Our hope is that future CI investments here will help the local people maintain the balance between a healthy economy and the natural framework that has forever supported it.

Matthew Fox is the Bird’s Head Seascape advisor for CI-Indonesia. Sincere thanks to the Kaimana CI manager Thamrin Lamuasa, his team and the government of Kaimana.


  1. alex says

    kapan pemerinta daerah kaimana mengekspos triton sebagai object wisata yaaaa kran bnyak yang mau mengunjungi kaimana alias triton .

  2. Christine says

    Sounds like a freshwater sensation. Hope it lasts. Humans very rarely develop along pristine modes, where ecology is the embodiment of abstract thinking and waste is a condition of natural accretion.

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