West Papua could soon be declared a Conservation Province - a would-be landmark moment in global conservation. Central to the move to legislate have been passionate individuals and committed organisations that have championed change for more than a decade. A compelling, grassroots campaign of powerful media engagement has also played a significant role.
Five thousand faces glowed in the light of the two-storey-tall outdoor cinema screen. The people of Waisai, the capital of the Raja Ampat Regency in West Papua, had made their way to the oceanside site just as the sun had set. They now sat beneath a clear night’s sky. As the film played, the crowd’s mood changed regularly – waves of collective emotion that rose and fell like the undulations of a rolling ocean. Cheers erupted as people saw the faces of their own community members on the big screen. Gasps of wide-eyed delight filled the air as whale sharks and manta rays danced across the giant canvas. Angry glances were exchanged as a homemade bomb exploded over a reef. Nods of agreement. Smiles. Tears. And then came the mighty crescendo where thousands of fists flew in the air in unison, when Edo Kondologit – Papua’s most famous singer – took to the stage to perform his song ‘Aku Papua’ (‘I am Papua’). The crowd screamed the lyrics into the night, proclaiming their proud heritage and declaring their solidarity in the name of conservation.
West Papua is one of the last pristine places left on this planet. It has the world’s largest mangrove forests, one of the largest rainforests, and the most bio-diverse reefs. It needs protecting. After a multi-year campaign spearheaded by locals, international conservationists and NGOs, and supported by local and regional governments, that moment may soon be here – West Papua is in the final stages of being declared a Provinsi Konservasi (Conservation Province) thanks to new government legislation. It is a moment that would put West Papua on course to become the new gold-standard for regional conservation and sustainable development. It would also create a blueprint for conservation initiatives that protect Earth’s most critical ecosystems.
The idea of Provinsi Konservasi was first officially raised by the provincial governor of West Papua, Abraham Atururi, who made a ground-breaking declaration in 2015 to establish the world’s first conservation province. Since that declaration, Conservation International (CI), Blue Sphere Foundation, the University of Papua (UNIPA), and representatives of the provincial government have been collaborating to mould legislation that works in the best long-term interests of West Papua. But this was an ambition that started long before the attentions of policymakers had finally been grabbed, long before negotiations moved into the corridors of power. This was a movement built on connecting with the people of West Papua, communicating the beauty of the province to those who would suffer most if it wasn’t protected.
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This feature appears in ISSUE 05: Cinematic conservation of Oceanographic Magazine
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