After local fishermen in Indonesia’s Karimunjawa National Park unintentionally caught a four-meter-long, juvenile whale shark they became quite concerned. The net was set for anchovies and other small fish, not for large, protected species, and they weighed the possibility that a fishing violation like this could cost them their business. The time was about 10 p.m., and they decided to send an SMS message to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) hotline. The rangers met with the fishermen in the morning, checked on the whale shark’s health and released it by 8 a.m.

The seemingly trivial event was meaningful to Stuart Campbell, the director of the WCS Indonesia Marine Program. The successful handling of the incident by both parties confirms the improvement of communication and trust between the local fishermen and WCS rangers.

Ten years ago this level of understanding between fishermen and the environmental group was absent, Campbell says. The Marine Program, established in 2002, originally worked only with the government and community partners to limit the damage caused by illegal or unregulated fishing. Relations have improved rapidly in the past 3 to 4 years, says Campbell, noting the changes are in part due to the local inhabitants becoming included in decisions about wildlife. Fishermen regularly report incidents to the hotline, which range from poaching violations to a stranded marine animal. Frequent use of the hotline, established in 2012, means the local have faith in WCS that someone will respond, Campbell says.

Prior to the incident the rangers had not heard of any whale sharks in the area, but afterward, “we spoke with some of the fishers, and other fishers said there have been increasing sightings.” Campbell believes the presence of whale sharks may be related to the increased fish abundance in the park over the past four years. He adds the rangers handled the situation “amazingly” and the outcome could not have turned out better.

- Julianne Chiaet