Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Raja Ampat regent forms Marine Protected Area

The waters off the northwest tip of Papua are among the world's richest in marine biodiversity but are affected by human activity. The Nature Conservancy environmental organization is among parties involved in efforts toward creating sustainability in the area. The following report is by The Jakarta Post's Ati Nurbaiti who was invited to communal ceremonies on 15 February held to affirm the local commitment to conservation in the Raja Ampat regency.

This regency of over 600 islands, both large and small, is a three-hour speedboat journey or whole-day ferry trip away from the port town of Sorong, in Papua Barat province. Its waters are frequented by whales, manta rays and dolphins, and locals attribute the return of fish near their homes to the recent conservation efforts.

The conservation project aims to preserve the biodiversity of this regency, comprised of four million hectares of land and sea with a human populace of just 38,000, according to latest estimates. Less than 40 of these islands are inhabited. The focus of the conservation efforts is predominantly on marine life, with evidence of over-exploitation in local and foreign fishing activities.

Last December Regent Marcus Wanma announced part of , the 110,000 hectares of sea around the Kofiau islands stretching to the border with North Maluku, as a protected marine area. In mid-February local communities affirmed their commitment to the area's conservation through religious and traditional rituals.

"What is required here," says Becky Rahawarin, head of the local fisheries agency, "is a management model which differs from that of protected areas under national parks." The regency must seek its own model. Until December there were a number of protected areas scattered throughout the islands, but lack of funds and other factors have rendered protection efforts ineffective, he said.

Local authorities have opted to adopt the environmental program, naming it the Regional Marine Protected Area, though no one has measured which part of the ocean comes under the jurisdiction of the central government and which parts should be fall under the umbrella of the local administration.

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