Orang Laut Raja Ampat

Megafauna and Marine Park Monitoring

Join the Orang Laut Raja Ampat tribe of committed individuals that contribute directly to the better management of Raja Ampat Marine Park.

Orang Laut Raja Ampat is a collaborative effort of individuals and organisations who recognise that the future of all Raja Ampat’s communities is directly dependant upon a continued state of reef health, and who are genuinely committed to the sustainable management of Raja Ampat Marine Park.  Orang Laut means ‘sea people’ in Bahasa Indonesia, and it is only through the committment and dedication of these Sea People, that the irreplaceable ecosystems of Raja Ampat have a secure future on this planet.

The below graphic shows the monitoring effort to date, and some of the many indicators we are monitoring within the Marine Park.  For a full description of the project please see below the map.

Join the Orang Laut Raja Ampat tribe of committed individuals that contribute directly to the better management of Raja Ampat Marine Park.

Orang Laut Raja Ampat is a collaborative effort of individuals and organisations who recognise that the future of all Raja Ampat’s communities is directly dependant upon a continued state of reef health, and who are genuinely committed to the sustainable management of Raja Ampat Marine Park.  Orang Laut means ‘sea people’ in Bahasa Indonesia, and it is only through the committment and dedication of these Sea People, that the irreplaceable ecosystems of Raja Ampat have a secure future on this planet.

The below graphic shows the monitoring effort to date, and some of the many indicators we are monitoring within the Marine Park.  For a full description of the project please see below the map.

Established in 2015, this project was one of the regions first Citizen Science based program focussing upon marine megafauna monitoring.  The project utilised  recreational divers and snorkelers to monitor and evaluate the performance of the Marine Park and Shark Sanctuary.  Over the first 2 years this project was able to contribute to the better understanding of megafauna residency and seasonality within the marine park; rapidly demonstrating the potential to become a powerful and effective management tool.  This project also enabled us to confirm a correlation between tourism density and manta ray population dynamics, which lead to a direct collaborative response to tourism overcrowding at a popular manta dive site.  After 3 years, almost 5000 dives were recorded along with indicators of tourism pressure, and these records represent the only dataset of its kind that exists for the Dampier Strait and wider Raja Ampat region.

Given the vast scale of Raja Amat’s Marine Protected Areas (2+million hectares) and the vast quantity of information needed in order to best manage the marine park, The SEA People acknowledged that the project needed to expand into an ongoing program covering a wider area, whilst still utilising the same model of Citizen Science to monitor more than just the megafauna.

Orang Laut Raja Ampat represents this expansion, as a collaboration between local communities, local government and the private sector, who together monitor multiple metrics including signs of human induced degradation, tourism intensity, as well as the diversity and distribution of marine megafauna over space and time. Orang Laut Raja Ampat is soon to be integrated into the Raja Ampat Marine Park Authority’s official monitoring, reporting and management strategy for the region’s MPAs.

Drawing upon participatory citizen science, Orang Laut Raja Ampat directly engages stakeholders in the collaborative management of the Marine Park within which they operate.  And whilst many monitoring efforts the world over are often criticized for “costing too much while delivering too little”, this program is cost effective, easily replicable and directly addresses the challenges outlined below. In collaboration with Marine Park Authorities, The SEA People is commencing with regional implementation of this program via a network of professional dive guides across a number of resorts, liveaboards and homestays.  All data collected is integrated using real-time conservation technology and interpreted to contribute to Marine Park management strategies.

The Challenges

Raja Ampat is for many a modern success story when it comes to conservation. Over the past decade, strong collaborations between governments and NGOs have permitted the establishment of a shark sanctuary and an important network of MPAs covering almost a third of the Archipelago. Thanks to those efforts, practices such as dynamite fishing and industrial shark finning activities have almost been entirely eradicated. Yet some challenges remain, and new challenges have emerged that require immediate attention in order to limit their environmental impact.

The Megafauna

Whilst most think of Raja Ampat for its stunning reefs and colorful fish life, it is also home to both resident and migratory marine mammals and an abundance of megafauna, about which little knowledge exists.  The below species are those that to date have been sighted throughout the Orang Laut Raja Ampat program

Insufficient Data

Ecological data describing the dynamic and overall state of nature can be difficult to acquire and is consequently often lacking; preventing an optimized management response. This is particularly true for highly mobile underwater creatures like sharks, rays and marine mammals, and presents problems both in Raja Ampat, and globally. Furthermore, it has become imperative to better monitor the growing tourism densities over space and time if local authorities are to effectively evaluate (and mitigate) associated environmental impacts.

Citizen Science using professional dive guides within the tourism industry
has the potential to become a cost effective solution to collecting data.

Marine Park Management & Monitoring

Whilst a network of MPAs and a Shark Sanctuary are established, local Marine Park Authorities are currently developing their expertise and still utilise capacity building collaborations with NGOs and consultants. Patrols can be irregular, while conventional monitoring methods are costly and sporadic.  The SEA People are currently working with local authorities to support the implementation of cost-effective tools that would support the identification of key areas in need of protection, managing tourism impact and numbers, and evaluating marine park effectiveness.

Rapid Tourism/Diving Development

While tourism was influential in the establishment of MPAs, and subsequently the eradication of illegal fishing in Raja Ampat, it is now evident that this new industry is presenting its own set of environmental challenges (see Reefs at Risk). The Dampier Strait region is currently experiencing a period of unprecedented and rapid development, largely due to SCUBA diving tourism. This rapid increase in human activity is not without impact upon marine megafauna and ecosystems that shelter them. Currently, there is not enough available data to assess and manage the performance of the marine park from a social, economic and environmental perspective, and The SEA People seek to address this using cost effective monitoring techniques.

Illegal & Unsustainable Fishing

With the implementation of Marine Protected Areas, illegal and unsustainable fishing practices were greatly reduced, and even directly eradicated in some areas.  However, such practices still do occur within the boundaries of the marine park.  Limited resources leads to limited enforcement and regulation, and currently there are no efficient means by which to report incidents to law enforcement authorities in ‘real time’.  The SEA People are seeking to address this through the use of technology, which will become available to authorities and local stakeholders as a means to report any illegal activities.

Understanding the socio-economic & socio-cultural value of nature

Raising awareness and developing understanding about the socio-economic value of nature and the services it provides us is a critical challenge of our time. In Raja Ampat a paradox exists; while marine megafauna are an important vector of the tourism economy; sharks, turtles and rays also represent a source of protein that is bound closely to local culture, and an income for many communities. Orang Laut Raja Ampat attempts to better understand the dynamics of these marine resources and promote non-extractive use.

Citizen Science: A Management Tool

Since 2015, The SEA People have been monitoring megafauna in the Dampier Strait region, drawing upon the diving industry and Citizen Science. The thousands of divers exploring Raja Ampat each year represent an untapped resource for producing large scale, ongoing and cost effective monitoring.

We are now expanding the project Orang Laut Raja Ampat to its full potential, by increasing its reach across the Marine Park and utilising it as a real-time monitoring tool to map the distribution of both megafauna species and tourism pressure within the Raja Ampat Marine Park.

Click Here to find out how you can contribute.

The Goals

  • To develop a cost-effective, accessible, and easily replicable monitoring toolkit to monitor the state of regional marine ecosystem functions and services, through recreational diving & Citizen Science
  • To learn more about the distribution and seasonal patterns of marine megafauna populations in and around Raja Ampat’s Marine Protected Areas
  • To contribute to the development of a sustainable model of scuba diving tourism in Raja Ampat
  • To identify dive sites & locations that are beyond environmental carrying capacity and/or where tourism would need to be sustainably managed
  • To provide training and alternative livelihoods to local community members/former fishermen as professional divers, whilst raising awareness about the importance of environment and the links between healthy megafauna populations with respect to sustainable socio-economic development of the Raja Ampat Archipelago
  • To record 10,000 dives per year by 2021 both  inside & outside Marine Protected areas (MPAs)

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Click Here to make a donation.. without our
donors, the work doesn’t get done!

CHECK OUR WISHLIST

Click Here to see our Wishlist of skills or items need to support our fieldwork.