Designing a Robust and Resilient Marine Protected Area Network in Lesser Sunda Ecoregion


Lesser Sunda Ecoregion, Indonesia

The challenge

At the southern end of the Coral Triangle, the Lesser Sunda Ecoregion stretches from Bali to Timor-Leste, covering an area of more than 450,000 square kilometers. The coral reefs of the region are highly diverse and have high levels of endemism, and six species of endangered sea turtles nest on the beaches of many small islands. This area is a major migratory corridor for cetaceans between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, with 21 species of marine mammal including blue whales and sperm whales recorded. Other large marine species such as dugongs, manta rays and whale sharks are also common in this region.

A scientific design of a resilient network of marine protected areas in the Lesser Sunda Ecoregion, encmpassing 3 provinces and two countries.

A scientific design of a resilient network of marine protected areas in the Lesser Sunda Ecoregion, encompassing 3 provinces and two countries.

One of the exceptional features of this region is the steep and dramatic underwater landscape. Just a few kilometers from the coast, the seafloor drops from shallow coral reefs to canyons and seamounts at depths of up to 2000 m, creating “deep sea/near shore” habitats. The passage of the Indonesian Throughflow (ocean current) between the narrow channels of the islands generates exceptionally strong currents. Persistent seasonal cold-water upwellings are an important feature of this region and drive the high productivity that supports fisheries and cetacean populations. These could also be a key factor in conferring resilience to the growing threat of rising sea surface temperatures associated with climate change. If properly protected, the Lesser Sunda Ecoregion could become a refuge for marine life and productive fisheries amid global climate change.

Lesser Sunda Pygmy Blue Whale

Pygmy blue whale. © Australian Antarctic Division

Although the islands of the Lesser Sunda are sparsely populated (around 13 million people live on hundreds of islands over thousands of square kilometers, making it one of the least densely populated areas in Indonesia), resource management issues include destructive and overfishing and harvesting of cetaceans and turtles, coastal development and mining. These practices threaten both conservation values and sustainable resource use. Developing an MPA network is one strategy to reduce these threats and, by incorporating principles of resilience, to also address the threat of climate change.

Actions taken

The Nature Conservancy-Indonesia Marine Program (TNC-IMP) has been working with the national, provincial and district governments, local communities, NGOs and universities since 2006 to design a resilient network of MPAs for the Lesser Sunda Ecoregion. The MPA network design was developed through a process that included both detailed scientific assessment and an extensive stakeholder consultation process. TNC-IMP facilitated workshops on Marine Protected Areas that were attended by more than 1,000 participants, and led technical MPA training initiatives for around 200 participants from national and local government agencies, local universities, marine research institutions, local communities, NGOs, as well as the fishing and tourism industries. The design process included:

  • Development of ecological and socioeconomic MPA network design criteria that include principles of resilience
  • Development of a GIS database that includes the best available information on key conservation features, threats and uses of the area
  • Application of state of the art conservation planning tools (Marxan)
  • Collection of input from government agencies, local stakeholders and scientific experts though a series of workshops and meetings
Lesser Sunda Tuna Boats

Tuna boats, Kupang. © Joanne Wilson/TNC

The design for Lesser Sunda MPA network includes 100 protected areas — 86 coastal reserves and MPAs for coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass that are linked to 14 larger offshore MPAs. The offshore MPAs encompass deep sea habitats important for endangered species such as blue whales. The MPA network design builds on existing and planned MPAs, and identifies additional areas for development of coastal and deep sea MPAs in the future. The network includes:

  • 23 existing terrestrial reserves that are adjacent to the coast and encompass intertidal habitats, such as mangroves or turtles nesting beaches
  • 14 existing MPAs that represent coral reefs, seagrass, mangroves, turtle nesting beaches and associated habitats and species
  • 19 areas that national, provincial or district governments have proposed as MPAs but have not yet been declared
  • 30 additional areas of interest that have been identified for inclusion
  • 14 deep sea areas of interest — three of which encompass transboundary waters between Indonesia and Timor-Leste

Together, the 100 protected areas incorporate all important ecosystems and species.

Key features of the Lesser Sunda MPA network design include:

  • The first resilient MPA network design at the ecoregional level in the Coral Triangle
  • The application of large scale marine spatial planning in a data deficient area which required innovative approaches including: less reliance on computer based decision support tools and more reliance on the use of expert mapping and input from key stakeholders
  • Incorporation of the principles of resilience, including 20% to 30% of each habitat type, protection of key species and habitats, and inclusion of habitats that may be resilient to increasing water temperatures such as areas of upwelling or high temperature variability such as reef flats
  • An extensive stakeholder consultation process including expert mapping exercises, scientific peer review and consultation with relevant government agencies in the region

How successful has it been?

A new MPA, Savu Sea National Marine Park (over 30,000 km²), has been gazetted by the Indonesian Government earlier this year.

The Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) agreed to adopt the design as the primary reference for establishing MPAs in the Lesser Sunda Ecoregion and to include the design in marine and coastal spatial planning at district, provincial and national levels. The scientific design of the Lesser Sunda MPA network and the accompanying information database are excellent resources for central, provincial and district government agencies that have guided their coastal and marine planning in the Lesser Sunda Ecoregion. These products provided a starting point for supporting finer scale site based planning for design and implementation of individual MPAs.

TNC-IMP supports relevant government agencies in the establishment and implementation of Nusa Penida MPA and Savu Sea Marine National Park and is providing training and technical input to policy and MPA design in Timor-Leste.

Lessons learned and recommendations

  • Producing a good scientific design for a robust and resilient MPA network is an important step to promote marine conservation in a large marine ecoregion such as the Lesser Sunda.
  • A good scientific design alone will not guarantee marine conservation success or the establishment of MPAs or MPA network.
  • Application of marine spatial planning is expected to address multi-sectoral interests and conflicts of resource use
  • A marine protected area management effectiveness framework must also be developed and introduced across the MPA network to ensure that the MPAs established are managed in high standard and functional to benefit conservation and other development needs in the region.

Funding summary

MacArthur Foundation

Lead organizations

The Nature Conservancy – Indonesia Marine Program


Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries — Indonesia
Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries — Timor-Leste


Lesser Sunda Ecoregion Factsheet (pdf)

Scientific Design of a Resilient Network of Marine Protected Areas — Lesser Sunda Ecoregion, Coral Triangle (pdf)

Indonesia: Lesser Sundas

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