The Bird's Head Seascape is also home to more than 1,765 types of fish, and provides crucial habitat for many iconic endangered animals including whale sharks, manta rays and sea turtles. Over 70 species of reef fishes, crustaceans and corals are found nowhere else on the planet.
"As fish populations plummeted, catch for the same level of effort decreased in some fisheries by as much as 90 percent," she said. "Indonesians living along the coasts saw their livelihoods, and traditional fishing rights, slip away as outside interests profited from plundering the Pacific."
The loss was especially hard because the region previously was described by reef scientists as, not only a species factory, but also a "cauldron of evolution." That is due to the fact that, in an area about the size of Great Britain, it boasts 75 percent of all the world's coral species. There are about 600 unique corals in total, or ten times the number of coral species in the Caribbean.
The turnaround from decimation began in 2004, when the Bird's Head Seascape Initiative was launched. This community-based conservation program involved not only CI, but also local community members, the regional government, and partner NGOs. Together, they helped to create a network of 12 Marine Protected Areas that provide monitoring and management of the coasts, reefs and fish.
Mark Erdmann, CI's vice president for Asia-Pacific Marine Programs, has witnessed the changes, particularly at coral reefs, first hand.
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"Over the past few months, numerous reports in the media have exposed the alarming levels of climate change-induced coral bleaching on Australia's Great Barrier Reef and many other locales across the Pacific Ocean," Erdmann told Discovery News. "I've just come back from a two-week expedition in Raja Ampat (an archipelago located off the northwest tip of the Bird's Head Peninsula), and our team saw scant evidence of bleaching here in the global epicenter of marine biodiversity."
The reasons for Raja's resilient reefs are complex and numerous, but he believes that one of the most important factors is that the reefs there are normally exposed to a wide variation in temperatures, basically pre-adapting them to climate change.