Community-based Conservation at Scale

Full Solution
A Marine Protected Area in the Bird's Head Seascape. Copyright Conservation International, photo by Laure Katz.

The Bird’s Head Seascape (BHS) addresses habitat destruction from overfishing and resource exploitation in West Papua, Indonesia, through a large-scale ecologically-connected and community-driven Marine Protected Area (MPA) network to preserve biodiversity and regenerate local fisheries.

Last update: 30 Sep 2020
Challenges addressed
Ecosystem loss
Physical resource extraction
Changes in socio-cultural context
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Poor governance and participation

Papua is undergoing rapid change. Over the last two decades interest in Papua’s natural resources has led to destructive and overfishing by outside poachers, oil and gas exploration, and nickel mining, all of which were impacting both marine biodiversity (the richest in the world) as well as the food security, livelihoods and traditional values of indigenous Papuan communities.

Scale of implementation
Coral reef
Sustainable financing
Protected and conserved areas governance
Local actors
Fisheries and aquaculture
Bird’s Head Seascape, West Papua, Indonesia
Southeast Asia
Summary of the process
The BHS strategy progressed through four distinct phases, each with a unique focus. The first phase focused on the scientific characterization of the seascape (building block 1), and the cultivation of social and political support for conservation (building block 2). This bottom up approach led to the development of the jointly declared MPA network by local communities and government (building block 3) The second phase focuses on the development of an MPA management system with adequate co-management institutions (building blocks 3 and 4) to empower local communities which actively lead planning, management, and program implementation, developing zoning and management systems. To reinforce cultural identity, traditional and modern concepts of no-take zones are combined. The third phase and fourth phases are focused on expanding support through strong legislation and effective governance systems and less dependence on the NGO coalition and donor funding. This includes building local co-management bodies, private sector engagement (building block 5) and developing a sustainable financing strategy (building block 6).
Building Blocks
Ecosystem-based Management Science Program
In order to scientifically characterize the Seascape, the BHS coalition launched a comprehensive and interdisciplinary Ecosystem-based Management Science Program in 2004. The EBM program included 18 composite cutting edge studies across a wide range of disciplines, including ecology, physical oceanography, fisheries, environmental economics, social science, political science, and anthropology. By working across disciplines, the EBM program generated a plethora of valuable information that guided the development of the Seascape EBM strategy. Once synthesized, the results of the EBM science program provided the foundation for the design of the BHS MPA network. To ensure maximum benefits to local communities, the MPA network was designed on a scale large enough to rebuild and maintain local reef fish stocks, protect globally significant biodiversity and maintain ecosystem function and processes, while also giving strong protection to Papua’s most vulnerable communities.
Enabling factors
• Awareness and support from government and communities • Scientific and technical leadership from NGOs and university partners, including ability to synthesize multi-disciplinary studies to support interdisciplinary planning • Financial support from a committed donor
Lesson learned
Start flexible and think locally: Before initiating MPA development, there is a need to understand the nuances of seascape: its science, culture, governance systems, the aspirations of its citizens, and its conflicts. Once all this information is available, it can be used to further cultivate enabling conditions. The most useful study from the EBM program was an unexpected one—community tenure mapping. Results from a year-long community tenure mapping study not only gave the BHS team a deep knowledge of community dynamics and aspirations, but it also provided invaluable information on areas that could be protected with little conflict or where protection could actually help reduce existing community conflicts.
Social and political support and partnership
To build social and political support, CI formed a coalition of partners across the seascape. We actively engaged with 90+ scattered coastal communities to build trust and community support, while exchanging ideas on the sustainable use of natural resources and conservation benefits. Through various innovative communication and education strategies, the team was able to amplify their impact towards community awareness and commitment for marine conservation over a large geographic scale. The team trained community conservation officers for each village and equipped religious leaders with environmental training, enabling them to disseminate conservation messages widely. The team cultivated conservation champions throughout the region, slowly working to shift attitudes toward resource use and conservation. The marine conservation movement extended across the entire Seascape through a wildly popular conservation radio program and a floating classroom that traveled around the region delivering experiential learning. The outreach efforts were even more successful then anticipated, leading to relatively quick action by the local communities and government. Together they established Indonesia’s first MPA network.
Enabling factors
• The overall strategy for the BHS worked well in a Melanesian cultural context that values tenure of the sea. • Any seascape initiative requires the lead agency and partners to be committed for engaging for a significant period, to have a long-term strategy and vision. • Significant funding and commitment of a donor to partner long-term to achieve seascape scale success.
Lesson learned
Partnership was central to the BHS and allowed conservation to occur on a truly seascape scale. In 2004 Conservation International (CI) forged an unprecedented collaboration with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and WWF-Indonesia in Papua, launching the Bird’s Head Seascape Initiative. The Partnership has expanded over the years to include over 20 central partners, most of which are local institutions. The integration of community aspirations into MPA network design process, i.e. focusing on enhancing sustainable local fisheries (food security) and the strengthening of traditional resource user rights, culture and tenure, led to rapid declarations of the BHS MPA network.
Development of ecologically connected co-managed MPA network
With the MPA network newly declared, the coalition focused on the development of a management system that empowered local communities to actively lead the planning, management, and program implementation of the BHS MPA network. The MPA boundaries as well as the zones within them were based largely on tenure boundaries, rather than administrative ones. To reinforce cultural identity within the MPAs, the Papuan tradition of sasi (seasonal harvest closures) was melded with the modern concept of no-take zones (NTZs) as a way of reinvigorating this important cultural practice. Within each of the MPAs a minimum of 20-30% of all critical habitats are completely closed to exploitation in NTZs to serve as “fish banks”. Areas outside of the NTZs are largely restricted to traditional fishing by local communities and employ sustainable fisheries management practices. The communities and local government were then equipped with the skills and infrastructure necessary to actively manage and enforce their own protected areas. In this way, the MPAs are designed not only to protect critical natural capital, but also explicitly to enhance small-scale local fisheries and to strengthen the tenure rights of Papuan communities.
Enabling factors
• Strong community commitment and support • Government commitment, support and willingness • Existing legal framework • Marine tenure in place • Technical and financial support
Lesson learned
Use the conservation process as a means to strengthen the rights and culture of local communities. The MPAs were delineated using customary tenure boundaries rather than solely administrative ones. Each of the locally declared MPAs was first pronounced through a local ceremony by local council of traditional leaders. The joint patrols include both community members and police officers, with the community members bringing traditional authority and manpower and the police officers adding an additional level of legal authority and training. The patrols use a system of “rolling” participation in which individuals are appointed by village chiefs to a two-week "tour of duty", after which they are replaced by a fresh team of villagers. In this way, over the course of a year, the majority of adult males in a given village will have dedicated at least two weeks to patrolling their MPA, during which time they invariably develop a stronger sense of understanding and ownership of the MPA.
Adequate capacity and co-management institutions
To build effective local management, the BHS coalition actively sought out and recruited energetic community leaders to take on MPA management roles and then spent the next six years systematically building their capacity to effectively manage their marine resources through targeted training programs and one-on-one mentorship. The BHS team launched a comprehensive MPA Management Capacity Building Program in partnership with the provincial government and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The program was designed to turn local village leaders, local MPA practitioners, and local government officials into highly effective and exemplary MPA managers. The coalition also worked directly with local and national government to develop Indonesia’s first MPA co-management governance system and helped create new government MPA management institutions into which the local community MPA teams could be embedded. These new institutions also required considerable capacity development support as they strengthened their institutional management capacity. Through this investment, the MPA network is now managed locally through and legally recognized partnership between local communities and the local government.
Enabling factors
• Strong community commitment • Support from government • Legal framework • Willingness of leaders to take the role as MPA managers • Technical and financial support for targeted trainings and mentoring
Lesson learned
Government commitment is key to achieve the necessary framework and thus approval of the MPA co-management system. Implementation needs a government agency in charge, and the legal framework for a board with flexibility and autonomy to manage fixed funding sources and recruit non-civil servants. National and local-level policy and legislation provide the legal basis for the MPA network and the mandate for effective implementation of MPA management plans, zonation systems, and regulations. Overlapping jurisdiction for the management of individual MPAs and the national network plan must be considered early. The commitment to hiring locally and then investing in capacity building is considered critical to the long-term success of the MPA network. The approach demonstrates that community-driven conservation at scale is possible: true bottom-up, community-driven conservation does not have to be limited to small scales and local communities can manage very large scale MPAs effectively.
Private sector engagement
The tourism industry was developed systematically to motivate the government to protect natural capital from over-exploitation and to prioritize more sustainable development pathways. The team works with tourism business owners in implementing ecotourism, including homestays owned by local communities, and championed the creation of a transparent and accountable tourist user fee system, which now generates over $1,000,000 per year in revenues that are directed to marine conservation and community development. CI further supported the local tourism department and association of tour operators to take voluntary and regulatory steps to ensure tourism best practices. These ranged from developing a code of conduct for divers and educational video to installing mooring buoys to facilitating the development of Indonesia’s first comprehensive tourism legislation (now a national model) which caps the number of liveaboards, institutes a licensing system, and provides strict guideline for coastal development. The tourism industry, which has become an increasingly large part of the local economy is now a powerful incentive for maintaining health ecosystems and prioritizing sustainable industries over mining and other extractive industries.
Enabling factors
• Existence or significant potential for tourism industry development • Interest and commitment of communities • Support from service provider and government • Legal mechanism to collect user fees
Lesson learned
he systematic and controlled development of the tourism industry was a major catalyst for conservation in the Bird’s Head, especially to provoke within the government a change to protect natural capital from over-exploitation and to give precedence to the initiative. After years of dedicated engagement and media attention, there has also been a clear shift in government efforts to prioritize tourism as one of the main economic drivers for Papua. The Minister of Mines and Energy has made numerous strong public statements in the media that Raja Ampat is off-limits to mining due to its importance for conservation and tourism. Another shift towards tourism was exemplified in 2012 when the Raja Ampat government passed a local parliamentary regulation banning shark and ray harvesting. This legislation is the first to afford complete protection of sharks and rays in Indonesia and is the first formal sanctuary in the Coral Triangle.
Sustainable financing strategy

The regional government is now working with the NGO and philanthropic communities to transition from an international NGO-driven and donor-funded initiative, to one that is effectively managed entirely by local institutions and that is sustainably financed. Once successful, it will be Indonesia’s first fully sustainably financed MPA network and will serve as a model throughout the country and region. The financial sustainability of the MPA network will be achieved through diversified revenue sources including government allocations, visitor fees and other local financing mechanisms, local fundraising, and a dedicated conservation trust fund. The BHS coalition developed a comprehensive cost model and business plan that projects seascape costs, revenues, and gaps under the “steady state” management system expected to be in place by 2017. Over 70% of local costs are already secured through local sources, with the largest contributor being the government itself. While these local commitments are unprecedented, additional investment is needed to ensure a fully sustainably resourced seascape. The coalition is working with the provincial government to develop a dedicated trust fund, the Blue Abadi Fund, to fill the gap.

Enabling factors
  • Conservation Finance Expertise
  • Governmental support and commitment
Lesson learned

Long-term is not forever. Sustainable financing is vital for the long-term success of any conservation initiative, particularly at a large scale. At the start of the decade-long commitment to West Papua, the team created a plan to ensure steady transition from an NGO-led and international donor-dependent initiative to one with strong local leadership and ownership.


The BHS includes Indonesia's first effectively managed MPA network, its first legally established co-management system, and has the highest MPA management effectiveness scores in the country with an average score of 73%. Threats have been reduced. MPA patrol teams were able to reduce destructive fishing practices to less than 1% of fishers in Raja Ampat MPAs. Illegal overfishing from outside poachers was reduced by over 90%. The government banned both mining and shark and ray fishing, and as a result, Raja Ampat has become a world-class tourism destination with an average annual tourism growth rate of 30%. Ecosystem health and local fisheries have started to recover. In Raja Ampat the average increase in live coral cover across MPAs has been ~12% since MPA establishment. The average increase in fish biomass across MPAs is ~114%. Local fishers are now catching more fish with the same level of effort. Ultimately, the goal is for local Papuan communities to have enhanced food security, livelihoods, cultural heritage and rights. Evidence on the ground shows significant results, with communities catching more fish, revitalizing traditional practices, and finding new livelihood opportunities in the growing tourism sector.

  • Indigenous Papuan communities
  • Local regency governments
  • Eco-tourists

Raja Ampat – which literally means “four kings” consists of four big islands: Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati and Misool, and hundreds of smaller ones. It covers an area of 4.5 million hectares and is home to 60,000 people. Raja Ampat is home to 75 percent of all known coral species, 1,470 reef fish, eight types of whales and seven types of dolphins. The mangrove forests boast uniquely soft corals, while its beaches are hatching grounds for green turtle and the endangered hawksbill turtle. Purwanto, Bird’s Head marine protected area technical advisor from TNC, said marine over-exploitation reached Papua while demand for fresh seafood increased worldwide. Luckily, a joint conservation effort had been set up by the local administration, local communities and environmental organizations to protect 4.5 million hectares in the Raja Ampat zone. In 2006 a network of Raja Ampat marine protected areas (MPAs) was established, covering a total of 1 million hectares of coastal area and sea. MPAs have implemented a zonal system that regulates which spots can be used for fishing and which ones are completely closed to all activities but scientific purposes. “Through the zonal system we set aside 20 to 30 percent of critical habitat to be protected and that can guarantee the sustainability of fisheries throughout Raja Ampat,” Purwanto said. The MPA included sasi, the traditional local conservation measure that closes damaged areas until recovery. TNC and CI recruited local people to work with them and training them. Some reach out to villagers to raise awareness and educate children about conservation through fun learning, some take part in marine patrol squads, while others join the underwater monitoring team. Lukas Rumetna, the Bird’s Head portfolio manager of TNC, said that after years of building the skills and commitment of local people, they are ready to continue the conservation efforts on their own. “Most of them have understood their role in managing the MPAs. Some tasks may still need our assistance, but overall they have all been equipped with the know-how,” he said. “And as we’re leaving soon, local people will then work together with the technical control unit from the local administration that will replace our work here.”

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Laure Katz
Conservation International
Keith Lawrence
Conservation International