- Marine protected areas (MPAs), which limit such activities as fishing, are increasingly popular and seem to protect fisheries and biodiversity, but little research exists on whether they help communities.
- Extensive work to answer that question is now under way in Raja Ampat, a large region of hundreds of islands, coral reefs and mangroves in Indonesia.
- Two lessons already seem clear: smaller reserves are more likely to benefit the local fishers because small areas are easiest to defend and are therefore more likely to flourish and to be managed sustainably. Second, the community must end up devising rules and policing compliance if MPAs are to succeed. Otherwise inhabitants may flout MPAs, and tensions can rise between locals and outsiders.
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On a brisk August night Dortheus Mentansan slipped into the calm ocean in a wood outrigger canoe with a lantern tied to the bow. A slight, solemn man with the precise paddle stroke that comes from 30 years of practice, Dortheus counts himself as a descendant of the original clan that settled here in the Mayalibit Bay region of Indonesia's remote Raja Ampat islands. Clouds blocked the moon, but Dortheus had no trouble navigating.
Soon several grayish forms—mackerel—took shape in the lamp-lit water: darting, disappearing and reemerging. Dortheus herded the quarry to a cut in the limestone bluffs, where reddish-brown rocks formed a shallow corral. The water's surface roiled as two dozen glistening fish splashed about. Dortheus stepped into the ankle-high water with a triangular net and scooped their bodies into the canoe, where they thumped against its walls for several minutes, robotically opening and closing their mouths.
This article was originally published with the title Let the Fish Breathe.