For pivotal moments in the lives of Indonesia’s Maya People, the leader of each village has a uniform ready. Here, a handful of Maya leaders stand in a boat on the Dampier Strait, wearing headdresses decorated with birds, like cassowaries, that represent the region’s endemic wildlife. Up at the front, Kris Thebu, a village leader, holds a tray and dons a black feathered headdress, preparing to offer food to the sea in a blessing.
Nineteen village heads, pictured here, came together this July to celebrate a formal agreement with the Indonesian government, establishing the world’s largest network of TURF Reserves – designated areas where local fishers are granted exclusive access to fish – in the Dampier Strait.
The network is made up of 21 protected areas, spanning 211,000 hectares of coastal waters – about two and a half times the size of New York City.
The Dampier Strait separates several islands of Raja Ampat in West Papua, Indonesia. Tree-covered islands emerge from its blue-green waters. For the Maya villages scattered throughout these islands, the urgency to safeguard local fishery resources is constant.
It’s a reality that applies across Indonesia, where marine life is threatened by overfishing and depleting stocks.
The new reserve network entrusts Maya communities as marine stewards. Local Maya people, that depend heavily on their coastal waters for food and job security, will be the ones to enforce new fishing rights and regulations.
Rare and the United States Agency for International Development’s Sustainable Ecosystems Advanced Project (USAID SEA) supported the designation of the TURF network, which builds on the work of partners including the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International and the Nature Conservancy.
The Maya’s leadership body and other government and local leaders worked with Rare and USAID SEA to develop policies governing the waters, identify the location of the TURFs and boost livelihoods by ensuring the fishers and their families benefit from the waters they are guarding.
By supporting regional efforts like the designation of the TURF network in the Dampier Strait, Rare aims to help communities transform management and stop coastal overfishing on a wider scale.
In 2014, Bloomberg Philanthropies launched the Vibrant Oceans Initiative (VOI) to protect the health of ocean ecosystems, and named Rare and Oceana as partners focusing on community fisheries and industrial fisheries, respectively. It was one of the largest-ever philanthropic commitments to reforming fisheries management internationally. In October 2018, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced Phase II of VOI – an $86 million commitment to expand the initiative to 10 priority countries including Indonesia.