Young Researchers Make a Difference for Communities and Marine Conservation

Using any kind of transportation available—ferries, small boats, buses, cars, motorcycles, and their own two feet hiking through rugged terrain—Dr. Fitryanti "Fitry" Pakiding and her team of young researchers travel to remote Indonesian villages. Their task: to survey local people about the effects of marine conservation efforts.

The work can be grueling, accommodations spartan, and hours long. But Fitry, a Papua State University (UNIPA) professor of economics, is an enthusiastic leader, and her team of students and recent graduates are eager to be involved in real-world monitoring.

The project aims to document the impact of marine protected areas (MPAs) on both local people and the marine environment. MPAs are ocean areas that receive special protection as a way to conserve resources and promote sustainable fisheries. When established properly, MPAs may be able to achieve both conservation and poverty alleviation.

The project was  initiated by WWF in collaboration with UNIPA, Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy.

An intrepid survey team
Fitry's team is surveying villages near six MPAs in the Bird's Head Seascape of West Papua, Indonesia. This area – at the center of the Coral Triangle region – boasts the highest marine diversity in the world, including:

  • iridescent corals
  • fish
  • crustaceans
  • mollusks
  • marine plants

There is also a culturally and linguistically diverse population that relies heavily on marine resources.

The team is monitoring changes in household well-being over time, including health, political empowerment, and education. The researchers are also probing underlying attributes of MPA governance.

 The students' participation contributes to one of the project's objectives, which is to build knowledge and skills among local social scientists. For Fitry's team, this is a life-changing experience that provides valuable professional experience and a chance to give back to their communities.

WWF’s role to ensure marine protected areas are well managed
Data collected from the Bird’s Head Seascape helps WWF and its partners to identify successful conservation strategies. WWF's goal is to ensure that all MPAs benefit from effective management and are sustainable in the long term. Unfortunately, many of the world’s MPAs are poorly managed or not managed at all.

WWF helps park managers, planners, and decision-makers work toward better management. We also collaborate with national governments and regional and international policy makers in establishing new and better management arrangements. And, as in the case of Fitry and her team, we work with scientists to collect the baseline information that can translate into effective MPA management.

What we learn in the Bird’s Head Seascape can inform our work in other MPAs around the world. The monitoring approach that we have piloted there is being adopted by other organizations around the globe. Like WWF, these organizations aim to assess the local impacts of marine conservation work so they can better design, implement, and manage MPAs to benefit species and communities.