The heavy rains did not relent for the milestone ceremony declaring four new no-fishing zones and one limited-fishing area in the spectacular southern section of Bird’s Head Seascape known as Triton Bay in West Papua, Indonesia. Rare Conservation Fellow Wida Sulistyaningrum had been working for years with her colleagues at Conservation International (CI) to gain the trust of the coastal communities. And only three months into her Pride campaign (Rare’s signature program that engages the community to build pride around unique natural assets) the communities themselves asked for the declaration of the protected areas. “Pride was an accelerant to the process,” says Eleanor Carter, Rare’s program director in Indonesia.

Sulistyaningrum explains that CI had been working in the area for four years, and though most of the villages wanted to create the no-take zones (areas where fishing is prohibited) there was one village that resisted. “We couldn’t move forward with the other villages because of fear of friction,” says Sulistyaningrum. “We waited until we cleared the problem.”

It is unclear exactly what changed the mind set of the wary community. But after persistent meetings with Sulistyaningrum, community forums and visits from government officials, the villagers finally united. They not only acquiesced to the creation of no-take zones, they asked that they be established immediately. During a training session on the benefits of marine protected areas in late May, the participants told Sulistyaningrum they wanted to bypass some of the formal next steps and just declare the no-take zones so that they could start demarcating the boundaries and patrolling the seas. “They were really anxious to declare the no-take zones,” says Sulistyaningrum. “It is really important to protect this area because it has one of the most beautiful coral reefs and we think that it is a spawning aggregation site.”

Wida Sulistyaningrum and community leaders (above) sign declarations establishing no-take zones in Triton Bay.

On June 17th, in a torrential downpour, the heads of villages, government officials, community members as well as staff from Rare and CI gathered for a traditional ceremony, an Adat, to formally declare the no-take zones. Local blessings sanctioned the protection of the areas with the implication that if someone were then to disobey the rules they would get a “mystic punishment”. A large billboard was also signed and placed prominently as a reminder of the no-take zones and their significance for the community. 

“The declarations in Triton Bay are the direct result of the Rare campaign conducted by Wida Sulistyaningrum,” says Mark Erdmann CI’s senior advisor for the Indonesia marine program. “It is a tribute to the tireless efforts of Wida and the CI team to develop strong community ownership over the management of their marine resources. I’ve been delighted to see Wida’s skills in social marketing and community outreach develop so impressively over the duration of her Rare fellowship, and we’re delighted to now have this skill set within our team.”

Triton Bay. Photo: Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock/CI

Following numerous speeches and the signing of documents, villagers served local cuisine. Traditional dancing affirmed the stakeholders’ support and enthusiasm. The community’s commitment encourages Wida Sulistyaningrum and community leaders (above) sign declarations establishing no-take zones in Triton Bay (left). Sulistyaningrum to move on to the challenges of building a system for the community to manage their fisheries, demarcating the no-take zones, patrolling them and enforcing them. “They are still waiting for the campaign promise that no-take zones will benefit them in the future,” says Yayat Afianto, Rare program manager in Indonesia. “We have to prove it.”

The Triton Bay success also gives the other nine Rare Conservation Fellows in Indonesia and Timor-Leste confidence in their own campaigns. “What was once incredibly daunting now seems achievable,” says Carter. In mid-August another campaign site declared a no-take zone and borrowed some of Wida’s ideas like prominently placing a billboard explaining the reasons for protection.

“I really can’t say enough about Rare’s training program and the important legacy it is building in key marine sites around Indonesia,” says Erdmann. “It is truly one of those rare gems in the realm of conservation capacity building programs, and its effectiveness speaks for itself!”