Located on the north-western tip of West Papua, Indonesia, in the heart of the Coral Triangle, Raja Ampat is one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Encompassing around 4.5 million hectares of land and sea, the archipelago is home to more than 1,400 species of fish and 75% of the world’s known coral species, earning it the nickname 'species factory'. As well as being a globally significant biodiversity hotspot, the nutrient-rich waters surrounding the islands provide a vital source of nutrition and a basis for local livelihoods, making the protection of Raja Ampat’s ecosystems from threats such as unsustainable fishing practices, overexploitation and climate change a regional and global priority.
Size and Location
The Raja Ampat Marine Protected Area (MPA) network covers an area of 1,185,940 ha and is composed of seven MPAs which are managed by the Raja Ampat Regency and the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, in partnership with local communities and with support from international NGOs. It is often referred to as the “crown jewel” of the Bird’s Head Seascape, a 3.6 million ha area of protected coastal and marine space encompassing Cenderawasih Bay in the east, the Raja Ampat archipelago in the west, and the Kaimana Regency and Triton Bay in the south.
Biodiversity and Cultural Values
Straddling the Pacific and Indian Oceans, Raja Ampat’s coastal and marine ecosystems are jaw-droppingly biodiverse and include a vast range of habitat types, from fringing, barrier, patch and atoll reefs to deep channel passages. 1,427 species of coral reef fish, and 553 species of reef-building coral have been recorded in the region. Studies have found Raja Ampat to be home to the world’s highest known diversity of reef corals for an area of its size, as well as 17 species of marine mammals – including dugongs, whales and dolphins - and 25 species of mangrove.
The majority of Raja Ampat’s local communities live in remote villages and rely on marine resources for their livelihoods. According to Indonesia’s three-tiered governance system – composed of a national, provincial, and local (regency or district) level – the responsibility for managing natural resources, and authority to declare MPAs, lies with the regency. Yet traditional marine resource management practices (sasi), and customary land and marine tenure systems continue to remain in place, making the management of natural resources a balancing act between modern and traditional practices, local communities, and governmental bodies.
While Raja Ampat’s vibrant coral reefs, abundance of megafauna, glassy turquoise waters, and picturesque limestone islands, easily conjure up an image of untainted paradise, its coastal and marine ecosystems face a growing number of threats, including destructive fishing practices, coastal development, runoff from poor land use practices, and uncontrolled tourism activities. Climate change impacts, such as rising sea temperatures, also threaten the ecosystems’ health.
A promising future
A coalition of international and local organisations (including WWF, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, Manta Trust, Coral Reef Alliance and RARE) and partners (local and provincial governments, coastal communities, local organisations, and universities) has been working for over ten years to tackle these issues which not only threaten the integrity of Raja Ampat’s ecosystems, but also the livelihoods of the local people who depend on natural resources for their food and income. Since the creation of the Bird’s Head Seascape initiative in 2004, they have been engaging with local communities and policymakers to facilitate collaborative MPA management, fostering awareness of sustainable resource use, conducting scientific research, and providing MPA management and enforcement support.
While challenges undoubtedly remain, these activities have contributed to the achievement of significant outcomes – in 2010, Raja Ampat became Indonesia’s first regency to declare its waters a shark and ray sanctuary, and in 2015 West Papua became the world’s first “conservation province”. These promising developments truly make Raja Ampat, and the wider Bird’s Head Seascape region, a “crown jewel” of inspirational places for collaborative marine protected area management.
- Agostini, Vera N., et al. "Achieving fisheries and conservation objectives within marine protected areas: zoning the Raja Ampat network." The Nature Conservancy, Denpasar (2012).
- McKenna, Sheila Anne, Gerald R. Allen, and Suer Suryadi. A marine rapid assessment of the Raja Ampat islands, Papua Province, Indonesia. Conservation International, Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, Department of Conservation Biology, 2002.
- Bird’s Head Seascape on CI
- Bird's Head Seascape