The district government of Raja Ampat, dubbed “the Underwater Paradise on Earth” located at the western tip of West Papua’s Bird’s Head, has enforced the protection of sharks, manta rays, dugongs, turtles and aquarium fish over a 4.6 million hectares sanctuary. The regional bylaw No. 5 of 2012 was launched Wednesday, 20 February 2013, reports Kompas daily.
This is the first shark and manta ray sanctuary in Indonesia, the first to protect the species in this rich marine ecosystem of the Asia-Pacific Coral Triangle, known as the “Amazon of the Ocean. The legislation follows the previous stipulation 5 years ago that covered a 1 million hectare area of surrounding seas.
Raja Ampat is known to have a staggering variety of underwater life that includes 1,397 fish species, 537 coral species, - or 75% of all species that exist in the world,- 699 collusk species, and a large number of sharks that include wobbegongs.
Country Director of the Nature Conservancy Indonesia Program, Rizal Algamar, applauded 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 (living) 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.” Algamar continued.
While, Conservation International Indonesia’s Director, Ketut Sarjana Putra emphasized that “This type of regional policy is a great example of local leadership, building Indonesia’s blue economy through investing in responsible marine tourism - recognizing the links between healthy marine ecosystem and healthy sustainable society. Hopefully this will prompt other tourism-dependent regions to develop similar actions throughout the Indonesian archipelago” Environmentalists welcomed the creation of the 46,000-square-kilometers protection zone, in an area at risk from both overfishing and climate change.
Overfishing has been a problem, especially by illegal fishermen from outside the area, but now the sanctuary will support existing no-take zones that have helped shark numbers slowly recover.
Sharks in particular play an important role, as apex predators at the top of the food chain, maintaining fisheries and ecosystem health. The sanctuary is also expected to prevent a drop in manta ray numbers, with the species’ gills increasingly used in Asian medicines.
Shark populations are in a rapid and steep decline worldwide, facing intense pressure from fishing and in high demand for shark fin soup.
(Sources: Kompas daily and Agence France Presse)
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