This Shark Week, take a moment to consider the manta ray. This much-loved gentle giant of the shark and ray (elasmobranch) family is a large, slow-growing and long-lived species, which makes it particularly vulnerable to overfishing.
Unfortunately, fishers have increasingly targeted mantas in recent decades to meet emerging demand for their gills in traditional Chinese medicine markets. This growth in demand is primarily the result of industry marketing, with the gills being peddled by practitioners as a cure for coughs and chicken pox, and for promoting respiratory health.
Left: A tourist admires a manta ray in Indonesia’s Komodo National Park. Photo credit: Hollie Booth/WCS; Right: Indonesian law enforcement authorities seize an illegal shipment of hundreds of manta ray gills. Photo credit: Paul Hilton for WCS.
Indonesia is a global priority for manta ray conservation, as it’s the world’s largest elasmobranch fishing nation and a major supplier of manta ray gills to the world’s largest consumer markets. Indonesia is also home to what is thought to be—or at least was—the world’s largest targeted manta ray fishery: Lamakera.
Lamakera is a small coastal community in Eastern Indonesia made (in)famous by the 2015 Emmy-award nominated film documentary “Racing Extinction.” People in Lamakera have been hunting marine megafauna for centuries, but traditionally the catch was just for local consumption. However, in the early 2000s manta ray catch in Lamakera rocketed, transforming in to a commercialized industry.
Map of Lamakera.
Around 2002, annual landings were as high as 1,000 individuals—a huge mortality rate for such a large, slow-growing species. Catch has declined ever since despite increases in fishing effort: a sure sign of an overexploited population.
Through a collaboration led by Reef Check Indonesia and Manta Trust, a manta conservation project was launched in Lamakera in 2013. This coalition led an intensive scoping and community consultation phase, laying critical foundations for future work by WCS Indonesia and Misool Foundation.
In 2014, the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries declared manta rays a protected species. This was a huge success for elasmobranch conservation (one that provided a clear legal framework for protecting mantas) but a major challenge for implementation—particularly because manta ray fishing is an important part of the livelihoods and culture of coastal communities like Lamakera.
To address this complex problem, WCS Indonesia and Misool Foundation adopted a multi-faceted approach. We focused on improving enforcement of manta ray regulations while developing incentives for regulation compliance and adoption of sustainable marine management practices—a classic carrot and stick approach. Since then, we’ve been monitoring our data to assess our impact.
What have we achieved so far? Since 2014, WCS has conducted law enforcement trainings on detecting, deterring, and prosecuting marine wildlife crimes, while supporting collection of data on illegal trade and providing legal advice to enforcement officials. More than 20 suspects involved in illegal manta ray trade have been arrested since 2014, with an estimated 4,200 kg of manta ray products seized.
These have resulted in sizeable fines and jail time in the first-ever prosecutions related to protecting fish species in Indonesia. We found there has been a significant increase in average fines and prosecutions for illegal shark and ray traders following WCS trainings for government officials, which we believe is an indicator of improved awareness, motivation, and capacity to prosecute marine wildlife crimes.
LEFT: The WCS and DKP East Flores patrol boat out on the water. Photo Credit: Hollie Booth; RIGHT: Graph by WCS.
Marine patrols were launched in 2016, and increased significantly in 2017, with the timing and location of patrol efforts strategically concentrated in areas and times of highest likelihood of hunting incidents.
On the community level, our partners at Misool Foundation established a sustainable fisheries cooperative. Of 63 members, twenty-two are ex-manta ray fishers committed to cease targeting mantas by participating in the cooperative. The benefits from participation are tied to compliance with manta ray protection regulations. An additional 13 local female manta ray traders have committed to developing non-manta ray livelihoods, and have received small business loans to do so.
Community monitoring of illegal fishing and by-catch incidents has significantly increased. Over the past year we’ve received 33 reports of illegal fishing and accidental by-catch of protected marine fauna, resulting in the apprehension of five illegal fishing vessels and release of 18 protected animals. Awareness of regulations has clearly improved along with local pride in marine megafauna.
Building community pride in marine megafauna. Photo credit: Erma Normai/Misool Foundation.
Most importantly, we are already seeing a measurable impact on manta ray mortality—with a statistically significant decrease in manta ray mortality in 2016/17 we can connect to our dual ‘carrot and stick’ strategy.
Through concerted efforts across different levels of society, WCS and Misool Foundation are achieving a measurable impact on saving manta rays in Indonesia. Behaviour change required for effective conservation can be complicated. Encouraging people to reduce environmentally destructive habits (especially if they have limited options) requires a variety of approaches. Some people will respond well to carrots, and others to sticks.
Despite these successes, pressures, challenges and uncertainties remain. Demand continues to drive hunting of manta rays. The population is severely depleted and recent enforcement measures may have resulted in illegal activity moving to less well-monitored locations. Our successes so far are just the first steps towards achieving long-term meaningful change and holistic sustainable management of marine resources.
Establishing and maintaining change takes time (especially when there are strong a persistent drivers for illegal targeting and trade), but based on our success so far we feel confident that time is on our side in protecting these extraordinary species.
——————————————– Hollie Booth is Sharks and Rays Advisor for Southeast Asia at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).
Indonesia is a megadiversity country, but even by its exceptionally high levels of biodiversity, Sulawesi stands out for its bewilderingly rich, charismatic and, at times, quirky species. The island, whose shape resembles a hyper-extended letter K, is the 11th largest in the world.
Sulawesi’s shape and rugged terrain were forged by the collision of land masses from Asia and Australasia that brought with them their own unique flora and fauna, which subsequently went into evolutionary overdrive as rapid speciation ensued.
Sulawesi is a rich treasure trove of awe-inspiring biodiversity that inhabits the island’s rugged and lush forest landscapes. WCS and MoEF are working together to document these species and fully protect them for future generations.
There are a staggering 127 mammal species in Sulawesi, of which 62 percent are endemic just to this island. If bats are removed from this list then the number of endemic mammal species rises to almost 99 percent. Among the 233 species of birds, more than a third are Sulawesi endemics.
Sulawesi contains seven endemic species of macaque, including the Critically Endangered black-crested macaque. Credit: WCS Indonesia.
To document this vast array of poorly understood wildlife as a first step in identifying and prioritising areas for protection, WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF)—with support from the UNDP/GEF EPASS project, Rainforest Trust, and Fondation Segré—have just completed the first ever systematic camera trap campaign for Sulawesi.
Over the course of a year, WCS-MoEF-community field teams surveyed two of the island’s flagship protected areas: Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park and the Tangkoko Forest Management Unit. The findings offer invaluable scientific data and rare insights into Sulawesi’s little known species, including the first ever photographic record of arguably Sulawesi’s most elusive bird.
Here, we highlight some of the exciting discoveries.
Despite hunting threat to Sulawesi’s two wild pig species, our surveys found that, encouragingly, they still occur both inside and outside of the protected areas.
Babirusa and Sulawesi warty pig
Of Asia’s 11 threatened species of wild pig, two are endemic to Sulawesi. The babirusa, listed as Vulnerable on the Red List of species maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is an ancient species of pig that is hairless and has enormous tusks growing through its upper jaw.
The babirusa, listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, is one of two wild pig species endemic to Sulawesi. Credit: WCS Indonesia.
In stark contrast, the Near-Threatened Sulawesi warty pig has a jet-black coat and a white ‘war paint’ looking fur line across its face. Both species are hunted to supply the Christian food markets in North Sulawesi. Yet despite this threat, our surveys found that these species, encouragingly, still occur both inside and outside of the protected areas.
The Endangered lowland anoa and mountain anoa are dwarf species of buffaloes that more closely resemble deer. They have become flagship species for protection.
The Endangered lowland anoa and mountain anoa have become flagship species for protection. Credit: WCS Indonesia.
As Lukita Awang Nistyantara, the Head of Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park, put it, “The anoa is a Ministry of Environment and Forestry priority species and we’ve set a goal to increase its population size. So, we’re delighted with these new findings from inside the park because we’ve just established the first ranger patrol teams, which forms part of our site-level management implementation.” He continued, “We’ll now use these data to direct our teams to focus on protecting the critically important forest anoa habitat identified”.
Sulawesi’s apex mammalian predator is the sleek and slender Sulawesi civet.
On the nearby island of Sumatra, wild pigs and deer sustain populations of tiger, clouded leopard and dhole. Yet, even though Sulawesi has an equally rich and diverse prey base, this has not given rise to the island’s own large carnivore. Instead, the island’s apex mammalian predator is the sleek and slender Sulawesi civet.
Sulawesi’s apex mammalian predator is the sleek and slender Sulawesi civet. Credit: WCS Indonesia.
Weighing around 6 kg (13 pounds) with a diet of rodents, birds, and palms fruits, this largely arboreal mammal is one of the least known species from Sulawesi. Our surveys not only succeeded in obtaining the first island-wide records after a 20-year absence but also the very first records of the species from both Bogani Nani Wartabone and Tangkoko.
Sulawesi contains seven endemic species of macaque. Our camera traps reveal where two of these species—the Critically Endangered black-crested macaque and Vulnerable Dumoga macaque—have neatly separated their range. The surveys also captured another one of Sulawesi’s distinctive peculiarities with the first ever record of a pure white ‘black’ crested macaque!
WCS camera traps have revealed that the Vulnerable Dumoga macaque (above) and the Critically Endangered black-crested macaque have neatly separated their ranges on Sulawesi. Credit: WCS Indonesia.
Agustinus Rante Lembang, Head of the North Sulawesi Natural Resource and Conservation Agency noted, “there may only be 9,000 black-crested macaques left in the wild, yet about 60 percent of these occur in Tangkoko. It’s only 84 square kilometers, but you see its importance for the species’s survival.”
To prevent maleo egg theft, WCS has been employing ex-bird poachers as nest guardians. Since 2001 they have overseen the release of 12,515 chicks in four key nesting grounds.
This unique but Vulnerable bird incubates its eggs in nests that are heated either by the sun on Sulawesi’s pristine beaches or by the warmth of underground volcanic activity at inland sites. Maleo eggs are roughly five times as large as that of a domestic chicken’s and, because of this, highly susceptible to poaching.
To prevent egg theft, WCS has been employing ex-bird poachers as nest guardians. Since 2001 they have overseen the release of 12,515 chicks in four key nesting grounds in and around Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park, which has become a stronghold for the species.
Sulawesi’s Vulnerable maleo incubates its eggs in nests that are heated either by the sun on the island’s pristine beaches or by the warmth of underground volcanic activity at inland sites. Credit: WCS Indonesia.
WCS’s Sulawesi Program Manager, Iwan Hunowu, who has been studying maleos for 12 years, noted that “the camera trapping showed maleos using new forest corridors connecting beach nesting grounds to the national park.”
Unfortunately, forest loss and fragmentation due to the encroachment of small farms threatens to sever vital linkages between these nesting sites and forest refuge inside the national park. “Because of this,” adds Hunowu, “we’re now working with local communities to fully protect these corridors through improved agroforestry schemes.”
WCS has recorded the first ever photograph of the endemic Sulawesi woodcock in the wild.
Perhaps the most incredible discovery of all was recording the first ever photograph of the endemic Sulawesi woodcock in the wild. Previously known to inhabit high elevation forests over 1,700 meters, here it is recorded at 1,100 meters from the Duasudara mountain in Tangkoko—a finding that extends its distribution to the easternmost part of the island.
WCS has recorded the first ever photograph of the endemic Sulawesi woodcock in the wild. Credit: WCS Indonesia.
The significance of this exciting discovery was captured by WCS Indonesia’s Communications Manager, Tisna Nando. “I’m from Sulawesi and an avid birder,” she observed. “This is actually my dream bird. I’ve never seen one in the wild, only in guidebooks and 18th century paintings. Now we have this beautiful photo from Tangkoko!”
Sulawesi really is a rich treasure trove of awe-inspiring biodiversity that inhabits the island’s rugged and lush forest landscapes. WCS and MoEF are working together to document these species and fully protect them for future generations. Who knows what surprises our future surveys will uncover?
————————————— Matthew Linkieis Terrestrial Director for the Indonesia Program of WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).