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Saving the Reef for the Fishermen

Posted on by Brendan Borrell

I've got a feature in the April 2012 issue of Scientific American about a group of social scientists who are studying the human impact of marine conservation in West Papua, a political tinderbox located in the center of the Coral Triangle. On the website, you can watch a slideshow of some of the amazing people whose livelihoods depend on the fish of the region.

Reporting for this story was nearly a disaster. The Indonesian government failed to give me a journalist visa, and, several weeks, before my arrival, violence broke out in Jayapura, Papua's largest city. The scientists I planned to spend time with had to cancel their research trip, and I arranged to travel to Mayalibit Bay with the help of some local conservationists. In addition to a visa, you're supposed to have a special document called a surat jalan due to the political unrest. I had neither, and I was on edge until we finally arrived on islands where all was calm, and I fell in love with the place.

Trofinus Dailom: Church leader Trofinus explains his support of the sea cucumber “sasi” (seasonal closure) in the village of Kalitoco. “Since the old times, I have eaten sea cucumber, grouper and jack. We never cook sea cucumber. We skin it and put some lemon and chili on it like ceviche. In the 1990s a lot of people were coming from the outside with a big net and caught lots of fish. After Conservation International came, we stopped the nets and feel there is some improvement. We no longer use aker bore [an herb to stun fish] and have a sasi for sea cucumber. That means if we cannot find big sea cucumbers, we must close the fishery so it can recover. We also know where the fish lay their eggs, and we do not go in that area.”

Trofinus Dailom: Church leader Trofinus explains his support of the sea cucumber “sasi” (seasonal closure) in the village of Kalitoco. “Since the old times, I have eaten sea cucumber, grouper and jack. We never cook sea cucumber. We skin it and put some lemon and chili on it like ceviche. In the 1990s a lot of people were coming from the outside with a big net and caught lots of fish. After Conservation International came, we stopped the nets and feel there is some improvement. We no longer use aker bore [an herb to stun fish] and have a sasi for sea cucumber. That means if we cannot find big sea cucumbers, we must close the fishery so it can recover. We also know where the fish lay their eggs, and we do not go in that area.”