Building Resilience into Large-scale Marine Protected Area Networks in the Global Center of Marine Biodiversity


Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia

Misool. © Dwi Wibowo/TNC

The challenge

Raja Ampat (“Four Kings”), off the northwestern tip of West Papua Province in Indonesia, includes the four large islands of Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati, and Misool and hundreds of smaller islands. This region encompasses over four million hectares of land and sea in the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’, an area with the world’s highest coral reef biodiversity. The archipelago is estimated to harbor over 75% of the world’s coral species. At least 553 species of scleractinian corals are known in Raja Ampat, and soft coral diversity is also very high. Raja Ampat also has one of the world’s richest coral reef fish fauna at least 1,437 species. The islands encompass intact forests and functional coral reefs, often separated by only meters. It is unusual to find such ‘ridge to reef’ ecosystem integrity in Indonesia.

Oceanographically and biogeographically, the Raja Ampat islands lie at the entrance of the Indonesian Through-flow from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean. While patterns of ocean currents in the area are complex, present data indicate a strong likelihood that the Raja Ampat reefs function as an unparalleled source of larvae to reefs throughout the region. The diversity of habitats and reef conditions in the Raja Ampat islands is the primary reason for the outstanding species diversity encountered in the area.

Video: Raja Ampat Case Study (2:22)
Lucas Rumetna and Purwanto of The Nature Conservancy describe how TNC, partners, and local communities are designing and implementing a resilient MPA network in Raja Ampat.

Actions taken

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has been working in Raja Ampat since 2003. The current integrated conservation program at Raja Ampat includes a joint work plan between TNC, Conservation International (CI), and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Indonesia. The collaborative vision is to establish and implement a network of resilient MPAs throughout the Bird’s Head Seascape in West Papua, in collaboration with provincial and regency governments, local NGOs, local communities, private sector, and other relevant stakeholders. The primary objective of TNC’s conservation work in Raja Ampat is to establish two effectively managed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), Kofiau and Misool, which will form the basis for establishing a resilient network of collaboratively-managed MPA network in Raja Ampat and the wider Bird’s Head Seascape.

TNC, CI, and WWF have committed to the joint objective of the adoption of sustainable planning and ecosystem-based management practices by the two provincial and fourteen city/regency governments in the Bird’s Head Seascape. The goal is to implement a network of ecologically-connected MPAs that together include sufficient “no-take zones” to include 20-30% of the critical coral reef habitats within these MPAs to all forms of exploitation, in order to ensure the long-term food security of the Papuan coastal communities.

Resilience is a key aspect of the work done in Raja Ampat and Bird’s Head Seascape, and specific resilience strategies have been part of the management and planning, including:

  • Designing an effective network of 12 MPAs across the Bird’s Head Seascape, to protect a diversity of species, habitats and ecosystem services;
  • Incorporating principles of resilience into the design zoning plans for MPA in the Raja Ampat MPA network, including the identification and inclusion of specific features such as areas of upwelling, shallow lagoons and high current areas;
  • Designing biological and socioeconomic objectives and criteria at the individual MPA level during the zoning process that take into consideration potential future impacts from climate change;
  • Applying IUCN’s Resilience Assessment of Coral Reefs at the Kofiau and Misool MPAs, to identify areas that may have a higher resilience to future stresses and disturbance, and incorporating this into the final MPA design; and
  • Applying ecosystem-based management principles to MPA network planning and management, and embedding the network in larger government-led spatial planning processes throughout the Bird’s Head Seascape.

Bird's Head Seascape MPAs. © Wen Wen/TNCBird’s Head Seascape MPAs. © Wen Wen/TNC

Fishing in Raja Ampat. © Mohammad Syakir/TNC

Three expeditions were completed by leading local scientists and managers in the region to assess coral reef resilience at Kofiau and Misool MPAs, using the protocol designed by IUCN. In addition to general reef health monitoring, data was collected on fish biomass, coral recruitment, algae cover, coral community structure and composition, coral diseases, and coral bleaching. The team also teased apart the factors that are “theorized” to convey reef resilience. Preliminary results suggest that coral reefs in Raja Ampat vary in terms of their resilience potential with herbivore biomass and differences in coral community structure driving differences in resilience rankings for individual sites. Sites that had a higher resilience score were included, to the greatest extent possible, within no-take zones. Areas with lower scores, but where management actions or intervention could significantly improve resilience were identified.

How successful has it been?

Communities traditionally declared their zoning plans at Kofiau and Misool in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Resource use monitoring has documented a significant decline in destructive fishing in all of the MPAs in the network. No-take zones that are actively being enforced are already showing signs of recovery of fish biomass, and coral communities continue to remain steady and are flourishing.

Lessons learned and recommendations

  • Strong tri-partnership, collaboration and joint-vision, goal and objective between the international NGOs TNC, Conservation International and WWF helped to design and implement an effective network of resilient network of MPAs at a Seascape scale by pooling resources where possible, ensuring lessons learned were shared across sites and organizations.
  • Significant time and resources invested in community participatory processes and resulted in local communities being actively involved in the declaration of MPAs and the design of zoning plans, and traditional management systems were integral in the final design. This meant that communities were generally more receptive to adjustments to zones once their primary socioeconomic criteria and considerations were addressed. This, in turn, generated a greater sense of environmental stewardship and communities were then more open to identifying no take zones and adopting more sustainable harvesting practices.
  • It was important to collect comprehensive biological, biophysical and socioeconomic datasets to adequately understand and characterize the MPAs, and incorporate this information into the final design of zoning plans. Socioeconomic datasets in particular were invaluable for understanding resource use, traditional management systems in place, and community relationships with their natural resources.
  • Effective design is being achieved by using principles of ecosystem based management and decision-support tools to zone the seven MPAs in Raja Ampat as a network, rather than on an individual MPA basis.

Funding summary

Walton Family Foundation
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation – Science Program
Private donors

Lead organizations

The Nature Conservancy
Indonesia Marine Program


Conservation International
WWF Indonesia
Raja Ampat Government


Herbivorous reef fishes critical for long-term coral reef health and resilience

Conservation Blog: Expedition to the Raja Ampat Islands

Bird’s Head EBM Factsheets (pdf)

Raja Ampat Factsheet (pdf)

Reef fishes of the Bird’s Head Peninsula, West Papua, Indonesia (pdf, 4M)

Assessing coral resilience and bleaching impacts in the Indonesian archipelago (pdf, 1.7M)

Designing marine protected area networks to address the impacts of climate change (pdf, 636k)

Resilience Assessment of coral reefs – Assessment protocol for coral reefs, focusing on coral bleaching and thermal stress (pdf, 4.8M)

Delineating the Coral Triangle (pdf, 385k)

Achieving the triple bottom line: inherent tradeoffs among social equity, economic return and conservation (pdf, 814k)

Achieving fisheries and conservation objectives within marine protected areas: zoning the Raja Ampat network (pdf, 6.4M)

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