Celebrating a Conservation Success Story

Bunaken Hope spotMichael AW AW57425

The Bunaken Marine Park, South East Asia’s first HOPE SPOT

Established as a National Park in 1991, the Bunaken Marine Park is a flourishing example of how diving communities can bring about change and ensure that their regions continue to thrive.

Dr Hanny Batuna and his wife Ineke, founded Murex Dive Resorts in the 1980’s and since then the family have seen many changes. Dr. Batuna, a pioneer scuba diver in North Sulawesi and he played a pivotal part in the establishment of the park and the diving community.  He dedicated time and resources to training other local divers and a strong diving community emerged in the region. Today the North Sulawesi Water Sports Association, which is made up of local dive centres and dive resorts, work together to ensure the ongoing success of this marine reserve.

When Michael AW worked on the Gift of State book “Beneath Bunaken”, a picture documentary about the marine park over the course of eight months in 1993, he recorded only five sightings of Hawksbill turtles. Since creation of the North Sulawesi Sports Association to protect the reserve, the number of green and hawksbill turtles within the park has soared exponentially – now it is common to see more than 10 turtles on just one dive. Mooring buoys are now in use and fishing takes place away from the reefs. The park, which is patrolled regularly, operates a tag system which helps fund initiatives within the park as well as support local communities. The combined efforts of all involved have resulted in an incredible success story of environmental decline to a stable, thriving marine ecosystem of astounding biodiversity.

Bunaken Hope Spot MichaelAW AW57447

Proposed by Michael AW / Ocean Geographic in 2018, Bunaken Marine Park has now been inducted as a Mission Blue Hope Spot in recognition of the profound impact a - community can make when they rally together to protect the ocean through education and hands-on conservation.

Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue, says, “The Bunaken Marine Park represents a tremendous success story and the positive impact it can have when people do what they can to protect the ocean.” She continues, “If this group of conservationists can do that for Bunaken, why not the rest of the Indonesian islands?”

Alex Rose, Science Editor at Ocean Geographic explains, “Communities in places like Bunaken remind me of how much hope we need to have for the future. In our current political climate and its rampant disregard for environmental policy, it is easy to get discouraged.”

Bunaken Marine Park is located in the centre of the Coral Triangle, and is perhaps one of the most spectacular dive destinations in the entire region. The park has seven times more genera of coral than Hawaii, as well as more than 70% of all the known fish species of the Indo-Western Pacific. Within the Park live more than 8,000 hectares of coral reef, extensive seagrass beds, and vast mangrove forests. Its terrestrial beauty is just as famous as its underwater forests: land features like tremendous volcanoes, expansive beaches and enchanting waterfalls awe its visitors. Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) lay their eggs on Bunaken's beaches, making this area of particular importance to maintaining their populations. Some of the shallow water scleractinian coral assemblages are so healthy, dense and diverse that they represent a higher replenishment potential compared to other neighbouring areas that have been damaged in the past.

Through active protection and local support, Bunaken has become a haven for green and hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricate). They are protected in Bunaken, and the turtles’ nest on Bunaken island and nearby islands Siladen and Manado Tua, returning year after year to lay eggs. Rose says, “15 years ago, you couldn’t find them. They used to be hunted. Now, people know not to hunt them anymore, and you can see so many of them when you go out on a dive. It’s really incredible to see the transformation that education alone has had on the sea turtle populations here.”

Bunaken hope spot MichaelAW AW55993

The North Sulawesi Water Sports Association works with the local community to maintain the park. In 2000, they established a participatory management system: the Bunaken Marine Park Management Advisory Board (BNPMAB), which has bound together representatives from the local community, private sector, university and local government to communicate park activity and develop sustainable sources of financing.

Michael Aw, director of Ocean Geographic, a senior fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographer whose conservation work in the area involves protecting the coral reefs, recently led a team of 49 photographers and scientists to document the state of biomass and diversity of Raja Ampat –   the heart of marine biodiversity on our planet. Like that of Dr Hanny Batuna, his work demonstrates that small actions from a single person can make a measurable difference in preserving the health of the ocean.

The next move for Ocean Geographic is to support the locals and expand the boundaries of the current Bunaken National Park to encompass other neighbouring islands in an effort to protect them from destructive and unregulated natural resource extraction. Nearby Bangka Island was threatened by illegal mining, and after an eight-year court battle which reached the Supreme Court in Jakarta, the Bangka Conservation Fund, spearheaded by local dive communities, was eventually victorious and in 2017 the mining company was finally denied all permits.

Alex Rose explains, “Providing havens for fish and marine mammals will bolster their surrounding populations. By expanding the boundary of protection for the park, there is enormous potential for additional positive spill over effects in neighbouring areas that are equally as dependent upon these marine resources as are the people who live within the current park limits.” As a Mission Blue HOPE SPOT, the years ahead for Bunaken Marine Park is bold, beautiful, and blue – we just need to act together to work towards a more sustainable world.

Bunkaen Hope SpotMichaelAW AW56123

About Mission Blue

Led by legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue is uniting a global coalition to inspire an upwelling of public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas – Hope Spots. Under Dr. Earle’s leadership, the Mission Blue team implements communications campaigns that elevate Hope Spots to the world stage through documentaries, social media, traditional media and innovative tools like Google Earth. Mission Blue embarks on regular oceanic expeditions that shed light on these vital ecosystems and build support for their protection. Mission Blue also supports the work of conservation NGOs around the world that share the mission of building public support for ocean protection. The Mission Blue alliance includes more than 200 respected ocean conservation groups and like-minded organizations.

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