Raja Ampat is home to the most diverse marine life in the world because of the nutrient-rich waters that surround the islands that make up the region. The main mass of water that flows through the area is known as the Dampier Straits. While this body of water is the main reason the region is so rich in marine life because of the currents that push through the area daily. It is also a highway for any man-made and natural waste that is discarded in the area, neighbouring regions, and countries. Because of this great care should be taken in keeping this incredibly diverse region clean.
In the last decade, many organisations have started promoting clean beach and ocean initiatives. World-wide beach clean-up events are hosted, underwater clean up dives and many educational campaigns are used to educate communities on recycling and cleaning efforts. With the increase in the world population and the tourism industries steadily growing worldwide the importance of these initiatives become even more crucial especially in regions like Raja Ampat where the local communities rely on the oceans for their livelihood. Be it from self-sustaining fishing or the thriving diving industry.
Raja Ampat is at great risk of heading in the same direction as Bali where the influx of mass tourism and an increase in population has led to a situation where the waters that surround the islands have become heavily polluted. While Raja Ampat is not even close to the same level of population or development the area is at a huge disadvantage because of the surrounding Regencies.
Cities like Sorong that lies to the South of Raja Ampat serve as a main transportation hub to the area and the large city population that produces a great deal of human waste. Partly because of a lack of infrastructure to dispose of the waste in an eco-friendly manner and a general lack of education on the topic most of this waste ends up in the ocean and eventually could make its way to the Raja Ampat Islands. While recently recycling collection points and plants have been introduced in the city it still falls on the local community to make use of these and at their own cost. A cost many in the area cannot afford.
Because of all these factors, the local communities of the Raja Ampat islands have taken it on themselves to educate others and promote clean-up efforts in their region.
With the support of larger organisations like PADI, Project Aware and eco-conscious resorts such as Meridian Adventure Dive local communities host mass beach clean-up events that target islands in the region where waste is known to collect or be left behind by less environmentally conscious visitors. During these events, the community is invited to join in on cleaning the beaches, attend educational presentations and often prizes are offered as an incentive for their help. Or in many cases just the opportunity to visit one of the smaller islands and turn the event into a social event all can enjoy.
Many of these beach clean-up events are linked with a Dive-Against-Debris dive and seminar, another Project Aware program that is supported by PADI and Meridian Adventure Dive. Participants remove the submerged waste on dive sites in the area and submit data to Project Aware to help assist with statistics on waste distribution and increases and decreases. Not only are these events fun but they can become extremely competitive with buddy groups often comparing who collected the most at the end of their dive.
These clean-up efforts do not end there. Through education in the region by organisations like Child Aid Papua and the Kalabia project aimed at educating children in the region on the correct disposal for non-biodegradable waste and alternatives to these. Money received from visitors to the area in the form of a marine park fee aids in these programs but as with many other projects like these in the world further financial and educational support is always needed.
The local communities of the area are fully reliant on the oceans for survival, so it hardly comes as a surprise that local groups such as the Raja Ampat homestay association strongly advocate responsible tourism practices. As they often say: “Masters of our own land”. Groups like these strongly discourage the use of single-use plastics and many other non-degradable waste products by members of the local communities and tourists who visit the area.
When visiting Raja Ampat be sure to support these clean-up efforts in any way you can and help the local community keep Raja Ampat the paradise it is.