Indonesia’s Raja Ampat: ‘The Last Paradise on Earth’

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(CNN) — More than 30 years ago, Dutchman and history buff Max Ammer received guidance from his countryman at the time, a veteran, about WWII planes in in Indonesian waters.

He led her on a four-month diving trip through various islands, interviewing local fishermen along the way.

During his journey, one place stood out from the others: Raja Ampat, in the West Papua province of Indonesia.

Located in the heart of the Coral Triangle, the Raja Ampat Marine Protected Area Network covers over 4 million hectares and includes approximately 1,500 islands.

Known for having some of the richest marine life on Earth and a remote location that can escape mass tourism, it’s no wonder that Raja Ampat is often marketed as the “ultimate paradise” on Earth.” It is home to more than 1,600 species of fish, including about 75% of the world’s known coral species.

“There are endless beautiful places and hundreds of beautiful coral reefs,” Ammer said.

His love for natural beauty and local communities inspired him to open the Kri Eco Dive Resort in 1994, with the aim of training local divers and bringing people into the ” world without water.” A resort in nearby Sordio Bay followed, with two properties operating under the Papuan diving group Ammer.

One of the most successful control programs in the world

Raja Ampat, as it is often called "the last paradise on earth," It is famous for the wealth of the sea.

Raja Ampat, often referred to as “the last paradise on Earth,” is famous for its rich marine life.

Papua Diving House

Raja Ampat has not been a conservation success story, showing that change is possible with the right approach.

“About 20 years ago, Raja Ampat was declining due to overfishing and illegal activities,” said Meizani Irmadhiany, senior president and managing director of Konservasi Indonesia, told CNN Travel, reporting on shark trapping and turtle eating.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done with different stakeholders to turn this around.”

In 2004, Raja Ampat was included in the launch of the Bird’s Head Seascape of West Papua, a project designed to create a network of Marine Protected Areas with the support of international conservators and local authorities. . It strives to conserve marine resources while ensuring food security and sustainable economic benefits for local residents.

“Since the project began, fish stocks have rebounded; the catch rate by offshore fishermen is about 90%; coral is recovering; and food security has improved and life for local communities,” said Irmadhiany.

Encouraging local communities to become active members of the recovery effort is key to success.

Parks employ residents to monitor and maintain the areas. They preserve local indigenous knowledge, values ​​and traditional practices such as “Sasi,” which refers to the ancient local tradition of sealing areas to allow ecosystems to regenerate.

“You have to start with the communities and make sure your solutions meet their needs. The goal is to support their own commitment to protect their area, so the solution will be sustainable and beneficial to local people and biodiversity,” said Irmadhiany.

Their work is paying off. Earlier this year, the Raja Ampat Marine Parks Network – which includes 10 protected areas covering more than two million hectares – was awarded the Blue Parks Award.

Organized by Marine Conservation International and sponsored by the United Nations, the annual award recognizes marine parks around the world for meeting the highest standards based on science for conservation.

Shark diving camp

The Misool Eco Resort is located nearby "empty space." Fishing and hunting activities are restricted within the 300,000 acre marine preserve.

The Misool Eco Resort is located in a “no take.” Fishing and hunting activities are restricted within the 300,000 acre marine preserve.

Shawn Heinrichs

Marit Miners is the founder of the Misool Eco Resort and the current Misool Foundation, one of the best examples of the importance of involving local communities to create a sustainable financial and environmental economy.

His relationship with Raja Ampat started as a love story. While traveling in Bangkok in 2005, she met fellow diver and new husband Andrew Miners.

On their third date, he invited her to go diving in Raja Ampat.

“My first visit to Raja Ampat in 2005 was life-changing,” Miners told CNN Travel. Born in Sweden, she studied anthropology before discovering her passion for scuba diving and yoga in Thailand.

“It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before, above or below the water.”

While the reefs off Batbitim Island, where Misool is now located, are amazing, Miners are worried about the shark camp.

“I didn’t see a single live shark,” Miners said.

However, years of commercial fishing activities have not cured the organisms. He urged the couple to found Misool Foundation and Misool Resort – a way to fund conservation work – in 2005, not long after their first visit.

Then, they reached an agreement with the local communities to change the Misool Marine Reserve to a “no-take,” meaning that fishing and hunting activities would be prohibited within the 300,000-hectare area. They have been hiring their own explorers to check the waters since 2007.

For the hotel itself, sustainability is always the priority.

For example, solar panels reduce fossil fuel consumption. Rainwater is collected to produce drinking water. The gardens provide an area of ​​organic food. The site’s waste management programs include the purchase of marine debris and plastics, which they sell to recyclers.

Sharks and other marine creatures have returned to Misool.

Sharks and other marine creatures have returned to Misool.

Shawn Heinrichs

Now, the fishermen are returning to the site where the dead sharks are deposited in the shallow sea, and the underwater life is better for the divers.

“Since 2007, the fish biomass (in Misool) has increased by an average of 250% and the number of sharks has increased again. their lives,” said Miners.

He emphasizes that the involvement of local communities is important for the continued success of Raja Ampat, as a well-maintained marine environment requires cooperation and long-term commitment.

“As ecosystems recover, they become more valuable to those who want to use them. Threats evolve and change over time…

That’s why we need dedication from the community, local governments, scientists, businesses, non-profit organizations, schools, financiers and important local and international sponsors, added is it.

“This holistic approach will give the best chance of success. It requires the spirit and energy of the whole, found here in Raja Ampat,” said Miners.

Cape Kri and other attractions in Raja Ampat

Ammer has also seen positive changes at its two Papuan dive resorts.

About two years ago when Dr. Gerry Allen of Conservation International dived at Cape Kri, the house outfit of Papua Diving, he counted 327 species of fish in one dive. Ten years later, the number has increased to 374 different types in 90 minutes.

“When we started, there was a lot of bad things going on around Raja Ampat: blast fishing, potassium cyanide fishing, shark fishing, logging,” Ammer said.

“All of those things have been slowly eliminated. In our case, the main thing is to make other choices to work. work.”

Both Papua Diving sites were built in affected areas; there were coconut plantations in the past, which means no virgin forests were destroyed.

Most of them are built with local materials, although the use of stainless steel extends the life of the wood. The houses are made of traditional palm leaves harvested and bought from local communities.

They designed more fuel efficient catamarans, built by local people. A new catamaran is currently being developed to be electric and independent when it hits the water.

Both Papua Diving resorts have conservation and diving centers, although 90% of their staff are locals.

When asked about his favorite places to dive in Raja Ampat, Ammer said the list is almost endless.

“I often wonder when I look around at the dives. I wonder if I’m dreaming it all,” said Ammer, who named the dive sites of that place.

In addition to Papua’s famous Cape Kri home, Sardines Reef is said to have “a lot of fish that protect them from the sun.”

Melissa’s Garden, named after Ammer’s daughter, is home to a beautiful shallow lagoon filled with hard and soft corals. Otdima, home to a solid coral reef, is named after Otto Awom – a local Papuan who was trained by Ammer to become one of their experienced dive guides.

There are many things to see on the water in Raja Ampat as well.

“The water is scattered with small pieces of the shape of the mushroom species, covered in potted plants and wild orchids,” said Misool’s Miners.

“The largest terrestrial arthropod, the coconut palm, can be found among the forest and a variety of birds such as the sulphur-crested cockatoo, Blyth’s hornbill and brahminy kite. shelter for sleeping flying foxes, or fruit bats.

“In the region, there are hikes that will reward you with amazing views of picturesque karst islands and blue lagoons.”

“Teach Us”

According to the founder of Papua Diving, others have helped to end illegal fishing practices once.

According to the founder of Papua Diving, others have helped to end illegal fishing practices once.

Thomas Haider

Luis Kabes, a local dive guide at Papua Diving, told CNN Travel to get the best experience in Raja Ampat, travelers should “visit a local village and share some time in the local school.”

“Tell us about your country and teach us. Share the food,” said Kabes, who comes from Sawandarek Village on Batanta Island, one of Raja Ampat’s main islands.

He is proud that Raja Ampat is now a popular destination and he is proud to be a dive guide.

Having spent three years in Raja Ampat and visited over 400 World War II airfields there, Ammer agrees that the main attraction is the people.

“Talk to people. Everywhere,” said Ammer, “Maybe you’ll fall in love with them too and never want to go home again.”

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