In the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’ Raja Ampat is an area of outstanding importance for coral reefs. Three-quarters of the planet’s hard corals exist in 46,000 km2, only 10% the area of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
“The Coral Triangle nations are at the epicenter of marine biodiversity globally. Millions of people depend on the bounty of these seas – and the sea, in turn, depends on them. Almost half the reefs have died over recent decades due to multiple threats of pollution, overfishing, destructive fishing, coastal development and climate change. If the Coral Triangle reefs disappear, millions of livelihoods and whole cultures will perish with them, and such devastating loss would impact economies and ecological systems all around the world” Coral Triangle Centre
Raja Ampat includes a network of seven marine protected areas (MPAs) in West Papua, Indonesia.
Since work began, 15 marine mammal species have been identified and the region was designated as maritime Regency with a ban on the hunting and killing of all large marine fauna introduced.
The area includes four large islands (Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati and Misool), hundreds of smaller islands and the Dampier and Sagewin strait.
Indonesia consists of 16 056 islands with a major oceanic exchange between the Pacific and Indian Ocean and Raja Ampat is strongly influenced by it. These water routes are used by many whales and dolphins, to migrate from one Ocean to the other, however not much is known about the species.
Our voluntary work so far …
In 2015 we were kindly invited as volunteers at the Eco-Resort Papua Paradise to assess the marine mammal species in this area and evaluate tourism activities for whales and dolphins in Raja Ampat.
In less than 6 weeks of field research we found over 15 different species of marine mammals directly in front of the resort. Dr. Vester (as a volunteer for Ocean Sounds) has also accompanied trips on board the pioneering liveaboard with Wildiaries and MV Pindito.
Our second visit to Papua Paradise was longer and we could gather more information and meet people who we saw could allow us to consider a research and conservation project. Dr. Vester has since visited the University of Papua (UNIPA) in Manokwari and has spoken with Dr. Ricardo Tapilatu from UNIPA.
“I don’t understand why our natural reaction is to chase whales”, says Heike Vester, “if we want to see any land animal in a forest our instinct would be to go slow and not make any noise”. Born in Germany, Heike has a lifelong love of the ocean and an ever-increasing urge to understand, preserve and protect its largest inhabitants. “Sound is everything for these animals and if you want to dive into their world you also have to dive into their sounds”, says Heike. “Listening to them is a huge part of what we need, to better manage our world”.
Heike pioneered behavioural acoustic studies of Killer Whales and Pilot Whales in Norway … read more of the interview with Dr Heike Vester