UPDATE: July 2019
In Indonesia, there is a tiny island, not even a mile long and a half-mile wide. It is one of many in the Ceram Sea but unlike most of the others, this one has a beach, making it accessible. Not long ago, that same beach was the base camp for shark fishermen who cut off their quarry’s fins for shark fin soup, which is an Asian delicacy and traditional status symbol. Only three percent of the shark was used. The animal was then tossed back into the sea, often, still alive. Those fishermen also threw dynamite into the water, making it easy to collect the stunned fish but destroying the coral reef in the process.
Andrew Miners stumbled into this tortured paradise and decided something had to be done before it was completely ruined. He and his wife, Marit worked with the local villagers and were granted a long-term lease and eventually created a 300,000 acre no-take-zone. In order to police that protected area and ensure the reef had time to recover, they established a fisherman’s cooperative and provided small business loans to the community. They hired a team of rangers to patrol the refuge. Many of them are ex- shark finner’s but they had to somehow pay them.
On the beach where thousands of sharks once died, they built a diving resort from scratch. They sawed reclaimed drift logs into timbers with a second-hand mill. Not one tree was cut down to build their cottages on stilts. Local artisans thatched the roofs and the foundations were made of hand-mixed concrete. Wood scraps and end cuts were used to make all the live edge furniture. Electricity is generated by solar panels and water is desalinated for guests who arrive via a four-hour boat trip from Sorong and stay for a week at a time.
In under ten years the wildlife returned; the coral recovered, and the Misool Marine Preserve is now the most bio-diverse reef in the world. There are over 600 species of coral – compared to the 58 types in the Caribbean. The shark population has increased by 600 percent along with thousands of other aquatic species; with more discovered every year. Guests can snorkel with sea turtles and jellyfish or float over fields of coral like underwater gardens. Divers can swim with oceanic mantas with fifteen-foot wingspans or forty-foot whale sharks. The Misool Eco Resort is now one of the world’s premier diving facilities and donates most of its profit to the Misool Foundation which works with local law enforcement and the Indonesian military to guarantee no one fishes within the no-take-zone.
WildAid Canada Society is pleased to assist the Misool Foundation by funding their manta research in the Savu Sea. To determine the distribution and extent of the manta population, DNA samples were collected; mantas were tagged with satellite tracking devices, and photos were taken of their distinctive belly markings. All of these data will provide a better understanding of the health of these magnificent animals.