The Regency Government of Raja Ampat affirmed its strong commitment to protect sharks and manta rays this week by officially declaring its 46,000km2 marine waters a shark and manta ray sanctuary, the first established in Indonesia as well as the Coral Triangle, a Pacific region which includes the tropical waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Conservation International (CI) welcomed the Raja Ampat government’s bold decision to ban outright the harvesting and trade of sharks and manta rays from its marine waters. Sharks in particular play an important role, as apex predators at the top of the food chain, maintaining fisheries and ecosystem health. Sharks and manta rays are also an important attraction important tourist attraction and are estimated to generate significant local tourism revenue when alive and in their natural environment.
The Country Director of The Nature Conservancy-Indonesia Program, Rizal Algamar, said “We applaud the Raja Ampat government’s breakthrough in policy for having the vision to lead the way in shark and manta ray protection that supports the maritime regency’s commitments to enhance tourism and sustainable fisheries. Scientific evidence states that the value of live sharks and manta rays far outweighs the one-time profit of dead sharks and manta rays, benefiting a growing world-class and increasingly popular marine tourism and dive destination.”
Shark numbers have been depleted in Raja Ampat by fishing pressure, but are now showing encouraging signs of recovery in newly established No-Take-Zones within the Regency’s marine protected areas. The regency’s resident manta ray populations now require protection to ensure their populations are not decimated by the emerging trade in manta parts. Any further loss of sharks and mantas would otherwise diminish biodiversity, affect local fisheries and negatively impact tourism as divers turn elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the Conservation International Indonesia’s Director, Ketut Sarjana Putra emphasized that "This type of regional policy is a great example of local leaders building Indonesia's blue economy through investing in responsible marine tourism – recognizing the links between a healthy marine ecosystem and healthy sustainable society. Hopefully this will prompt other tourism-dependent regions to develop similar actions throughout the Indonesian archipelago.”
Concerned by the rampant fishing of sharks and manta rays in eastern Indonesia, local and global conservation allies joined forces behind a 2010 petition led by Misool Eco Resort and Shark Savers, with support from WildAid, Misool Baseftin Foundation, and Coral Reef Alliance, which urged the Raja Ampat government to take measures in protecting its sharks and manta rays. This was welcomed by the regency government, and the shark and manta ray sanctuary was declared by the head of government in October 2010. Since then a regulation to enforce the sanctuary was developed and issued by the local parliament in late 2012, with the assistance of TNC and CI. The regulation provides for the protection to a number of ecologically and economically important ocean animals including sharks and manta rays, as well as dugong, whales, turtles and dolphins and a number of ornamental fish species.
The Director of Area and Fish Species Conservation of the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF), Toni Ruchimat, highlighted that “The MMAF congratulates and supports the Raja Ampat government and people’s commitment to protect sharks and manta rays, setting the bar high for the sustainable use and management of marine resources in Indonesia.”
Shark populations are in a rapid and steep decline worldwide due to unrelenting fishing pressure and demand for shark fin soup. Up to 73 million sharks are killed annually, mostly for their fins. This wasteful and cruel process usually results in finned sharks being discarded alive. As a result, many shark species have suffered declines greater than 75% and in some species up to 90% or more. Sharks are either directly targeted, or caught as by-catch in industrial pelagic fisheries. There is also a new emerging market in Asia that is creating a demand for dried manta gill rakers to be used in traditional medicines, driving exponential increases in the fishery and severe population declines, especially in Indonesia. Currently, Indonesia ranks as the world’s largest exporter of sharks and rays.
Sharks, mantas, and rays are critical to the Raja Ampat government’s goals of sustainable fisheries, healthy reef environments, and strong eco-tourism. With the correct protection in place, shark and manta ray populations will start to recover. The recovery of shark populations will attract tourists to the region, and will ensure Raja Ampat remains one of the top preferred dive destinations in the world, bringing sustained income to local communities and economic wealth to the regency.
Conservation International (CI) Through innovative approaches to conservation science, partnership and field demonstration, CI has for 25 years empowered societies to value and protect the natural world that sustains us all — from breaking new ground by signing the first-ever debt-for-nature swap agreement with the government of Bolivia in its first year, to collaborating with the leaders of 15 Pacific Island nations to better protect and manage an area of ocean the size of the U.S., Canada and Mexico, combined, in the last year. For more information about CI, visit www.conservation.org.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.