Bird's Head Seascape - Conservation International

In 2005, the Walton Family Foundation partnered with Conservation International to establish an initiative to protect the unique biodiversity of the Bird’s Head Seascape in West Papua, Indonesia. Since then, we have invested more than $40 million in efforts to preserve the thousands of marine species that inhabit the Seascape while helping local communities to thrive.

The Bird’s Head Seascape is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. It is home to over 600 corals and more than 1,600 species of coral reef fish. The Seascape also provides habitats for several globally threatened marine species, including sea turtles, manta rays, numerous shark species and dolphins.

The Seascape is home to more than just the animal and plant life that reside there; it is also an economic driver and food source for the villagers of West Papua, 43 percent of whom live below the poverty line. When we began our Seascape initiative in 2005, we knew we needed to find ways to protect the rare biodiversity of the ecosystem that would sustain local fisheries, boost the prosperity of area businesses and workers and empower the community.

Through the foundation’s support, Conservation International has worked with The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund of Indonesia to create a network of marine-protected areas and no-take zones within the Seascape to protect its diverse marine habitats. This network of protected areas now covers more than 13,000  square miles – an total area larger than the state of Maryland. West Papuan fishermen are reporting that they are seeing higher numbers and greater diversity of fish in the water, which means they are beginning to see real improvements in their catch and their ability to provide food for their families. This collaborative effort, which is protecting the environment while serving the livelihoods of local citizens, is a global model for successful marine conservation.

While we have made incredible progress, our work in Indonesia is not done. Moving forward, we will work with our groups on the ground to establish local ownership and stewardship of the Seascape by the West Papuan community and government. If we want this network of protected areas to endure, we must transition the day-to-day management of the Seascape to the people who will benefit the most from its preservation.

At home and around the world, the foundation supports conservation efforts that make economic sense for the communities they impact. It's what we call "conservationomics." The work our grantees have done and continue to do at the Bird’s Head Seascape will have lasting impacts because it is designed to ensure that the ecosystem of the Seascape thrives while the economies that depend on it prosper.