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Photos: the people of Indonesia’s marine protected areas

  • A pair of WWF scientists are studying Indonesia’s eastern marine parks to determine how local people interact with nature.
  • Photojournalist and filmmaker James Morgan documented their research.

Indonesia: a vast archipelago, the world’s largest maritime nation, home to the richest marine biodiversity — but in danger of being wrecked by overfishing and other unsustainable practices. That’s why the country has pledged to establish 20 million hectares of marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2020. Like their terrestrial counterparts, these national parks of the sea often have large human populations, and the restrictions they impose can result in the marginalization of local communities that rely on the seas and coasts for their livelihoods.

To better understand the human component of these marine ecosystems, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) scientists Louise Glew and Gabby Ahmadia are conducting a massive census of fish and people in eastern Indonesia, which comprises much of the Coral Triangle. Over five years, the two have interviewed 3,500 households and counted 500,000 fish, making theirs the most comprehensive study of its kind. The researchers hope to disentangle some myths about MPAs and help foster a more inclusive paradigm for managing the seas.

Photos by James Morgan.

WWF scientist Gabby Ahmadia sees a hawksbill turtle. WWF has been working with a seaweed farming community to promote alternative livelihoods to protect endangered turtles.
Cosmos Sirkin is part of a crab fishing cooperative in Kei Kecil, an island in Indoneisa’s Maluku province. WWF-Indonesia is helping Sirkin’s group set sustainable harvest guidelines and keep catch data.
Local fisherman Laurens Yamlean dives for sea cucumbers, a relatively high value resource thanks to their popularity particularly among Chinese communities.
A sea anemone tickles a pair of clownfish in the Selat Dampier MPA, in Indonesia’s farthest-east region of Papua. The degradation of reef ecosystems is occurring globally due to overfishing, pollution, and climate change, and their loss poses a direct threat not only to marine biodiversity but also to the health of fishing communities in developing nations.
Kids play in the ocean of Pasir Panjang beach in Kei Kecil.
A seaweed farmer on Pasir Panjang beach. His group has agreed to stop harvesting hawksbill turtle eggs and seaweed farming offers a more sustainable alternative.
WWF scientist Gabby Ahmadia releases a juvenile hawksbill turtle.
WWF scientist Louise Glew conducts a focus group with fishers from Nai Island in the Kei Kecil MPA.
A woman sells fish at a market in majority-Catholic Langgur, a town in the Kei Islands. Villages are being studied for information on ethnic composition, political jurisdiction and proximity to fish markets.
Fish at the market in Langgur.
Jan Piter Renuth is the Raja of Loorlobay, one of three kings on Kei Besar, another small island in Maluku. He explained Sasi, Indonesia’s traditional system of resource management to the research team. Sasi can dovetail with contemporary conservation approaches as it seeks to control the harvesting of resources.

A version of this story was originally published on The Coral Triangle.