A boat of divers explores the shallow fringing reefs of a remote limestone island just off Misool Island. Raja Ampat, Papua, Indonesia,.
Land and water A boat of divers explores the shallow fringing reefs of a remote limestone island just off Misool Island. Raja Ampat, Indonesia. © Ethan Daniels

Stories in Indonesia

Protecting the Bird’s Head Seascape

Ensuring the global jewel of marine biodiversity in Indonesia is protected for generations.

Map of Bird's Head Seascape.
Bird's Head Seascape Map The Bird's Head Seascape is located in Indonesia's West Papua province (highlighted in yellow). © TNC

Bird's Head Seascape: a global jewel of marine biodiversity

In the far eastern reaches of Indonesia, the Bird’s Head Seascape is an expanse of crystalline waters, lush islands and coastal villages that spans an area nearly the size of Great Britain and includes the famed Raja Ampat archipelago.

Biologists call it a crown jewel of the natural world: Bird’s Head is home to about three-quarters of the world’s coral species, as well as migrating whales, fleets of giant manta rays and leatherback turtles. This unique seascape is also the lifeblood of many local communities that are highly dependent on the marine resources for income and food.

Sunset over Rajat Ampat
Sunset over Rajat Ampat A reef in Raja Ampat during sunset. © Joseph Orsi/TNC Photo Contest 2019
Meet and greet
Meet and greet A freediver observes a young manta ray in a shallow lagoon, Raja Ampat, Indonesia. © Ethan Daniels

Bird's Head Seascape: By the Numbers

  • Coral

    70%

    contains over 70% of the world's coral species

  • Fish

    1,800

    over 1,800 species of reef fish

  • Ocean

    22m

    hectares with over 2,500 islands and reefs

  • People

    775k

    people with rich, diverse cultures and traditions

At the turn of the 21st century, the future of this seascape lay in doubt. Its waters were plagued by illegal and destructive fishing practices, such as the use of blast (dynamite) fishing that damages shallow reefs and decimates entire schools of fish. Unsustainable coastal development was rampant. 

That’s why in 2004, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), together with our main local partner in Indonesia, Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara (YKAN), along with other local and international stakeholders, created the Bird’s Head Seascape Initiative, a working partnership designed to help protect this precious seascape while enabling Indigenous communities to protect their traditions and economic security. To date, the Initiative consists a network of 12 marine protected areas (MPAs), spanning over 3.6 million hectares of marine ecosystems.

Our work in the Bird's Head Seascape aims to:

  • Expand and strengthen the MPA network to ensure the health of this unique ecosystem;
  • Demonstrate a successful, locally managed MPA network model through innovative oceans and fisheries management solutions and community enterprise management models; and
  • Secure the long-term benefits and financial sustainability of the MPA network through the Blue Abadi Fund.
A huge school of yellowstripe scads
Raja Ampat Archipelago A huge school of yellowstripe scads in tight formation in the waters of Dampier Strait off the Raja Ampat Islands of Indonesia. © Jeff Yonover

Raja Ampat Archipelago

Rajat Ampat is the undisputed heart of Indonesia’s tropical marine diversity and the linchpin for TNC’s conservation efforts in the Bird’s Head Seascape. These rich waters provide over 45,000 people living in 117 villages with food, livelihoods and shelter and help to buffer communities from tropical storms. TNC has been working in Raja Ampat for almost two decades to build a governance structure, develop policies, involve communities in program management and implementation and provide environmental education. We are also helping to conduct regular biological and socio-economic monitoring and establish a management system, supported by an entrance green fee.

In addition, TNC is working with several village governments to advise on green infrastructure projects that reap benefits for communities as well as the Bird’s Head Seascape’s ecological health. Our village government partners are now improving sanitation and drainage requirements in coastal developments to reduce reef-damaging run-off as they work to reform village-level infrastructure plans. Together, such reforms not only help nature but also make communities more attractive to ecotourists drawn to Raja Ampat’s unparalleled dive sites.

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A coral garden
A Coral Garden Sea fans and soft corals adorn a beautiful "coral garden" in Misool, Raja Ampat, Indonesia, Pacific Ocean. © Ethan Daniels

North Misool Island

In order to address threats to coastal communities in North Misool—including overfishing from both small fleets and large vessels and the influx of global tourism attracted to the beauty of the Bird’s Head Seascape—TNC is working with partners to safeguard the health of coastal and marine ecosystems through improved fisheries management for the people of Misool. 

TNC is working to establish a site-based, fisheries management program in North Misool Island waters. Both the government and communities are supportive of the idea of protecting their fisheries’ resources. All planned activities—including baseline studies (biological, social and economic), regular dialogues with the community to establish a fisheries management area, stakeholder meetings for a coastal spatial plan—provided a solid foundation for the program.

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Collecting sea cucumber data A community in Folley village, Misool, collecting data on sea cucumbers from the Sasi harvest. © Nugroho Arif Prabowo/YKAN

Southeast Misool

In Southeast Misool, TNC and YKAN helped strengthen coastal communities’ capacity to administer Sasi, a traditional method of resource management that practices the opening and closing of fishing areas for a limited time. In Folley and Kapatcol villages, TNC and YKAN used rapid scientific assessment to help the communities decide which areas are suitable for Sasi. This is critical, because communities are now better informed and able to make decisions that lead to higher diversity of species and higher profits for their communities. The area the community has decided to monitor through Sasi encompasses 326 hectares of coastal and shallow waters.

In addition, TNC and YKAN trained community members to monitor the Sasi area regularly and ensure the implementation of harvest rules, including recording and reporting. TNC and YKAN also conducted trainings for Waifuna, a women’s group in Kapatcol village, on sea cucumber biology and processing. As a result of these trainings, the group was able to independently carry out sea cucumber harvesting while following sustainability guidelines.

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To ensure the long-term success of conservation initiatives in the Bird's Head Seascape, in 2017 TNC helped to establish the Blue Abadi Fund (Abadi means "forever" in Bahasa Indonesia), which is independently governed and committed to preserving Bird's Head in perpetuity. The Blue Abadi Fund will help sustain the beauty and rich resources of this region of the world, enable communities to maintain the abundance found in their seascape’s reefs and mangroves and allow TNC to continue its work to protect marine biodiversity at enormous scale.

Protect the Global Jewel of Marine Biodiversity

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