AsianScientist (Feb. 20, 2013) – The Regency Government of Raja Ampat in West Papua, Indonesia declared its commitment to protect sharks and manta rays today by officially declaring its marine waters a shark and manta ray sanctuary.
The 46,000 square kilometer sanctuary is the first to be established in Indonesia as well as the Coral Triangle, a Pacific region which includes the tropical waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste.
Besides sharks and manta rays, the new regulation also provides for the protection of dugongs, whales, turtles, dolphins, and a number of ornamental fish species.
“We applaud 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,” said Rizal Algamar, the Country Director of The Nature Conservancy-Indonesia Program.
Shark numbers have been depleted in Raja Ampat by fishing pressure, but are now showing encouraging signs of recovery in newly established No-Take-Zones within the Regency’s marine protected areas.
There is also a new emerging market in Asia that is creating a demand for dried manta gill rakers to be used in traditional medicines. Currently, Indonesia ranks as the world’s largest exporter of sharks and rays.
“This type of regional policy is great example of local leaders building Indonesia’s blue economy through investing in responsible marine tourism – recognizing the links between a healthy marine ecosystem and healthy sustainable society. Hopefully this will prompt other tourism-dependent regions to develop similar actions throughout the Indonesian archipelago,” said Ketut Sarjana Putra, the Conservation International Indonesia’s Director.
A 2010 petition led by Misool Eco Resort and Shark Savers, with support from WildAid, Misool Baseftin Foundation, and Coral Reef Alliance, urged the Raja Ampat government to take measures in protecting sharks and manta rays.
In October 2010, the shark and manta ray sanctuary was declared by the head of government, and since then a regulation to enforce the sanctuary was developed and issued by the local parliament in late 2012, with support from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Conservation International (CI).
Sharks play an important role as apex predators at the top of the marine food chain. Unlike other fish species, sharks and mantas have slow reproduction rates and their populations can be depleted quickly.
Sharks and manta rays are also an important attraction important tourist attraction and are estimated to generate significant local tourism revenue when alive and in their natural environment.
Compared to a one off payment of Rupiah 2,975 per fin (US$0.35 per fin) to local fishers in South East Misool in Raja Ampat, the average tourism value of each living grey reef shark in the Maldives has been placed at US$3,300 per year and as high as US$33,500 at popular dive sites. Similarly in Fiji, 100 sharks in Beqa Lagoon generate US$30,000 per shark, or US$3,000,000 annually through dive tourism.
Source: The Nature Conservancy; Photo: Jeff Yonover/TNC.
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