The Mission Blue Council has just named the Misool Marine Reserve in South Raja Ampat, Indonesia as a Mission Blue Hope Spot. Misool is a shining beacon of hope inside the Coral Triangle, the most biodiverse marine ecosystem in the world. Here’s Misool’s story about how conservation and tourism can be the perfect marriage…
Back in 2005, when Raja Ampat was visited only by a handful of daring divers aboard their pirate-esque Phinisi schooners, Marit Miners and her future husband Andrew spent their third date, which lasted nearly a month, diving Misool’s undiscovered reefs. They explored the region’s maze of karst outcroppings and rugged islets. During a surface interval between dives, the pair stumbled upon a secret beach which was home to an itinerant shark finning camp, clearly contributing to the estimated 100 million sharks killed each year to supply the shark fin soup trade.
Appalled by what they saw and inspired to protect what we now know to be one of the most biodiverse places on earth, Andrew contacted the local clans and asked for their permission to build a conservation centre on Batbitim Island. With the elders’ blessings, Marit and Andrew set about their task.
Unfortunately, Marit and Andrew had A) no experience or education in conservation, architecture, construction, or small island politics, and B) no money for what quickly ballooned into a much bigger project than anticipated. But they did have plenty of enthusiasm and energy. Eventually they mobilised co-conspirators and investors who also believed in their vision: creating a private island resort that would leverage pristine reefs as its central asset, and ultimately become the funding vehicle for the conservation work that urgently needed to be done.
With the backing of a handful of supporters, Marit and Andrew began construction in 2005, alongside dozens of workers recruited from as near as the village next door and as far away as Java, Germany, and the UK.
It worked. In 2008, after two and a half very long years of construction (and sleeping underneath plastic tarps, subsisting on soggy rice and old eggs, and periodically breaking out in boils from malnutrition), Misool opened its doors to its first guests. Since then it has welcomed a diverse array of visitors, from conservationists and nature nerds to weary city folk looking to get away from it all, snorkelling enthusiasts, devoted kayak and paddle boarders, celebrities in search of a hash tag-free oasis, parents looking to bring their kids to a gorgeous, safe series of beaches and lagoons, and scuba divers in search of the perfect reef. (There are 60+ dive sites in Misool’s Marine Reserve.)
“We came just in the nick of time,” said Marit. “In 2005, the reefs were under intense pressure from shark finners, bomb fishermen, and industrial-scale long liners. The local community lacked the resources to stop these incursions by outsiders. The traditional landowners have their own homegrown tradition of fisheries management, and this laid the groundwork for a powerful collaborative lease agreement. Together, we established a 300,000-acre Misool Marine Reserve, stopped all fishing, and created 165 jobs.”
What made, and continues to make, Misool a unique organisation is that the natural resources, in this case the reefs, are the most important business asset. The Misool Marine Reserve is an expanse of ocean, with incredible biodiversity and it has an important function in seeding and replenishing the reefs of the Coral Triangle.
The unique partnership of a for-profit organisation, Misool, and its non-profit sister, Misool Foundation, makes investment in the protection of its central asset possible. The synergy between the two organisations provides the mechanism for guests to visit this rare sanctuary, thus inspiring them to support the conservation initiatives through the foundation. The resort provides a permanent logistics base for the foundation, shares costs, provides support in the form of a senior management advisory team, fundraising, technical expertise, and more. The Foundation would be unable to bear the cost of these services without resort. And Misool would be unable to offer guests transformative experiences in the heart of marine biodiversity without Misool Foundation’s unfaltering vigilance.
“Misool’s model isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ design, but the principle is certainly scalable and replicable,” Marit continues, “We hope that the ongoing protection of Misool provides an inspiring example of just how effective private enterprise driven conservation work can be. And of course, how powerful consumer choice can be in supporting conservation. This model protects nature, strengthens community, and creates a unique value proposition for the switched-on consumer.”
So, what’s next for Mission Blue’s newest Hope Spot?
“We dream big, but we must never lose sight of our founding commitment. We set out to protect the world’s richest reefs, and that’s exactly what we intend to do,” Marit concludes. “But of course, the shape of things keeps changing, and new challenges always present themselves. The Misool Marine Reserve is now well established, but there are still a thousand and one ways we could do more, do better. Once upon a time, when we first set foot on this island, we were just a handful of people with a lot of passion who followed our hearts. Even if we’ve done nothing else, hopefully we have proven that even regular people can do something worthwhile, and something that will be of value for generations to come.”