Raja Ampat’s remoteness is both a blessing and a curse…
Located as it is, right in the path of the Indonesian Throughflow, means that the area has a virtually constant source of rich nutrients flowing through the 1500+ islands that make up the Four Kings, plus its isolation has allowed the countless reefs of the area to flourish almost beyond belief.
Its position, at the far eastern end of the vast Indonesian archipelago, also meant that there were much easier areas for the foreign fishing boats and long-liners to target. So for many years Raja Ampat was basically left alone in a kind of splendid isolation.
But as the word of rich waters began to spread it also registered on the radar of those fishing boats and in the mid 1990’s they started to appear in the area – albeit on a small scale as there were still rich pickings elsewhere!
Another major factor that worked in Raja Ampat’s favor was that its low population density, which at that time was less than 40,000 people living in about 100 mainly coastal villages meant, meant that there was plenty of fish to go around and there had been virtually no dynamite and cyanide fishing – the incredibly destructive practices that are unfortunately so common in other parts of Indonesia.
But by about the year 2000 things were not looking so good in Raja Ampat as more fishing boats were starting to appear, plus fisherman from Sulawesi were beginning to make their presence felt along with their dynamite and cyanide harvesting practices – often with the unofficial support of the police and military and sometimes by hiring local Papuans to do the dangerous and dirty work.
Clearly something had to be done to conserve Raja Ampat and that journey started with the initial quantification of its diversity, with a Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) by Conservation International in 2001, when a total of 45 sites were assessed over a 15-day period, then the following year an additional 50 sites were assessed as part of a Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) carried out by The Nature Conservancy (TNC).
The surveys established that in the Raja Ampat area alone there were 1320 species of reef, with 996 recorded in the Fakfak-Kaimana coast area and 877 in Cenderawasih Bay – while in the overall Bird’s Head penninsular there were an amazing total of more than 1,600 species, plus 37 of which are considered endemic to the area, all of which confirmed it as the most bio-diverse marine environment in the world.
Map of the Birds Head Peninsula showing Raja Ampat, Cenderawasih Bay and Fakfak
The incredible fecundity of the Bird’s Head peninsular in general, and that of Raja Ampat specifically, quantified as it now was by the RAP and REA surveys ultimately led to the establishment of an initial 7 Marine Protected Areas through the combined efforts of Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, WWF Indonesia and the local government of the Raja Ampat Regency.
The integrated plan for the first seven MPA’s led to the creation of another five covering the key environments of the Bird’s Head.
Next Page: Raja Ampat’s Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s)
Back To: Raja Ampat Overview