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Husband and Wife Build Island Eco Resort in Indonesia to Protect and Conserve Marine Life

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola

Story at-a-glance -

  • Andrew and Marit Miners built Misool Eco Resort, a resort and marine reserve located in southern Raja Ampat, Indonesia, which is home to one of the planet’s most biodiverse habitats
  • The eco resort combines private enterprise with conservation, using profits from tourism to promote marine conservation and to support the livelihood of native islanders
  • Misool Eco Resort is surrounded by a large “No Take Zone” that prohibits fishing and the removal of marine life from the area
  • The conservation effort has transformed a marine habitat once terrorized by shark finners and dynamite fisherman into a protected reserve for sharks and other marine life; two dozen new species of fish have been discovered in the protected area in the last five years
  • The resort pays for the salaries of three local teachers, as well as funds a floating library that supplies local children with books on conservation

Hidden deep within an archipelago of uninhabited islands in Indonesia lies a resort that combines private enterprise with conservation. Misool Eco Resort is a special kind of paradise, doubling as a luxurious beach getaway and a marine reserve that's home to one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.

The featured documentary, "The Last Resort," tells the story of how Andrew and Marit Miner succeeded in building an eco-diving resort designed to halt destructive fishing practices and protect and preserve marine life.

The resort is surrounded by a large “No Take Zone” that prohibits fishing and the collection and removal of marine life, including marine invertebrates such as sea cucumbers and tortoise shells and eggs. The desire to build an eco-diving resort began when the Miners first visited Batbitim island, located in southern Raja Ampat, Indonesia, on their third date.

The couple were captivated by the island’s natural beauty, but their admiration turned to horror when they discovered the remnants of an abandoned shark finning camp. The bodies of dead sharks, brutally killed for their fins, littered the beach’s shallow waters.

Disturbed by what they saw, the couple embarked on a mission to transform the area, once terrorized by shark finning and dynamite fishing — practices that destroy fragile reef systems and deplete local food supplies — into an eco-resort and center for marine conservation.

The resort is different from other so-called “eco-resorts,” as it’s not just “eco” in the sense of greenwashing, notes Andrew in the film. The concept of Misool Eco Resort is not just about generating profit, it’s about protecting the environment and the principles of conservation.

Misool Eco Resort Connects People With Nature

Andrew believes that humans are interconnected with nature, even at times when we often feel detached.

"It's the environment around us that nurtures us. We're completely linked to it. We sort of feel, as humans, that we're more detached from the environment but it's a fallacy, we're not. The more you learn about the marine environment or the land environment, the more you realize that actually we’re completely linked to it.

For me it was never an option to just build a resort. For me, it had to be a result that protected and nourished and nurtured the environment, because I don’t see another way. That’s just the way to do it."

In the film, Andrew discusses some of the great challenges in bringing his dream to fruition. Raising the money to build the resort was the hardest part, he says. The couple had no experience or education in conservation, architecture, construction or small island politics, and no money for what expanded into a much bigger project than anticipated. But they did have heart, energy and a lot of enthusiasm.

Eventually, the couple were able to find investors who shared their vision and passion for marine conservation, leading to the development of "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."1

Construction began in 2005 and lasted for about two and a half years before the resort opened its doors in 2008. Incredibly, not a single tree was cut down to build the resort. Misool Eco Resort was built entirely with reclaimed wood, using driftwood that had washed up on the island's beaches. "We cleaned the beaches, and we had perfect wood," said Thorben Niemann, a German carpenter who helped the Miners build the resort.

The couple slowly built up investment all the way through the building period, which meant they never had a reserve of money, and therefore couldn't stock up on the things they needed. They had to build as the money came in. "It made for a difficult way to build and was very stressful," says Andrew, adding that it meant sleeping underneath plastic tarps, subsisting on soggy rice and eggs, and occasionally breaking out in boils from malnutrition.

Another major challenge the couple faced was the island's limited supply of fresh water. Batbitim island did not have a well or river, which meant they had to fetch water from a nearby island and transport it back to the build site. This was a tedious task that resulted in having little water for personal use for things like cooking and showering.

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The Resort’s Most Important Feature Is Its ‘No Take Zone’

Since its opening, Misool Eco Resort has “welcomed a diverse array of visitors, from conservationists and nature nerds to weary city folk looking to get away from it all, snorkeling 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,” according to its website.

One of the most important aspects of the resort is its “No Take Zone.” Andrew worked with the local community in the early stages of development to negotiate a no-fishing zone around the island. After witnessing firsthand the damage caused by shark finning, the Miners understood the No Take Zone would be key in bringing their vision to life.

The No Take Zone initially negotiated by Andrew stretched 425 square kilometers, or 164 square miles, around the island and several nearby islands.

However, Andrew realized the No Take Zone needed to be extended after he went diving in a group of islands called the Daram Islands, about 25 miles east of Batbitim, and discovered several large shark finning camps and witnessed fisherman mutilating live turtles for shark bait. He also found unexploded bombs on the island, indicating that fisherman had been practicing dynamite or blast fishing.

Dynamite Fishing

Dynamite fishing is incredibly destructive as it involves the use of explosives to kill or stun fish. This method destroys the fish and shatters all of the coral in the area, leaving behind a lifeless dead zone. According to Reef Resilience Network:2

"Because blast fishing is limited to shallower parts of the reef, these vulnerable zones can be reduced to rubble by repeated blasts, making recovery difficult or impossible and destroying large sections of reef."

No one likes dynamite fishing, says Andrew, adding that blasting an entire area may permanently destroy its productivity, eliminating future harvests for local islanders. According to The New York Times:3

"Dynamite fishing destroys both the food chain and the corals where the fish nest and grow. Blast fishing kills the entire food chain, including plankton, fish both large and small, and the juveniles that do not grow old enough to spawn. Without healthy corals, the ecosystem and the fish that live within it begin to die off."

Dynamite fishing is so destructive that global fish supplies could be significantly decimated in the coming decades, scientists warn. The practice is so prevalent in the Philippines that the average daily catch has declined from 45 pounds in 1970 to 4.5 pounds in the year 2000, according to a report by the Philippine national statistics board.

Shark Finning

Sadly, more than 100 million sharks are killed each year worldwide for their fins,4 which are sold for shark fin soup, a delicacy that costs up to a $100 per bowl and is considered a symbol of wealth and status in cities such as Tokyo. The fins are the only part of the shark that has commercial value. As a result, hundreds of shark bodies are discarded around shark finning camps. According to the Smithsonian Institution:

"Many fishermen prefer to practice shark finning instead of bringing whole sharks to the market because the fins are far more valuable than the rest of the body, sometimes selling for as much as $500 a pound ($1,100 a kilogram).

Instead, fishermen choose to keep just the shark fins — only 1 to 5 percent of a shark's weight — and throw the rest of the shark away rather than have the less valuable parts take up space on the boat.

The finned sharks are often thrown back into the ocean alive, where they do not die peacefully: Unable to swim properly and bleeding profusely, they suffocate or die of blood loss."

Aside from being incredibly cruel and inhumane, shark finning puts sharks at risk for extinction due to their slow growth and low reproduction rates, which makes it difficult for sharks to replenish their populations as quickly as they are being diminished. Scientists estimate that shark populations have decreased by 60 to 70 percent due to shark fishing by humans.

Misool Eco Resort Extends Its No Take Zone to an Area Twice the Size of Singapore

Intent on eliminating shark finning camps and dynamite fishing occurring on nearby islands, the Miners worked closely with native islanders and community leaders to extend the No Take Zone, creating a protected area 1,220 square kilometers, or 471 square miles, in size, equivalent to an area twice the size of Singapore.

The extension of the No Take Zone was endorsed by the Bupati of Raja Ampat and ratified by the area’s community leaders. The Walton Family Foundation and Wild Aid donated $200,000 to fund the first year’s startup costs and operation of the Daram patrol, according to the film.

In order to protect the No Take Zone, Misool Eco Resort employs local islanders to patrol the area and look for fisherman invading the zone. The resort works closely with the local community's traditional system to deal with violators.

If it's someone from the local community who's fishing, the resort patrol makes a report and hands it over the island's traditional leader, who deals with the fisherman through their own traditional village sanctions.

It wasn't difficult to convince the island's older generation to support the No Take Zone, says Andrew, adding that they understand that if you close off an area for fishing for a certain period of time, there are more fish when you reopen it. The locals say fishing used to be good, but has declined over time.

One of the locals who helps patrol the No Take Zone says fisherman used to ask him why he was stopping them from fishing there, but after two years of patrolling, they see that the harvest in Batbitim has greatly improved. “We aren’t anti-fishing; we’re protecting the resource for local fisherman and the community,” says Andrew.

The No Take Zone also prevents outsiders from coming in and stealing the native islanders' harvest. If it weren't for Misool Eco Resort, there may not be a future harvest, said one of the locals in the film.

Raja Ampat Is the Epicenter of Earth's Marine Biodiversity

The film also features Mark Erdmann, Ph.D., a senior adviser to Conservation International’s Indonesian Marine Program,5 who helps manage six marine parks. Over the last decade, scientists have shown that Raja Ampat is the epicenter of marine biodiversity for the planet, and is home to more species of coral, fish, crustaceans and snail than anywhere else in the world.

Thanks to the area's conservation efforts, fish populations have bounced back and are thriving, especially the sharks, as it's now illegal to fish for sharks in Raja Ampat.

The bay of Missol Eco Resort, once home to a shark finning camp, is now a breeding group for blacktip sharks and home to over 30 juveniles. Remarkably, two dozen new species of fish have been discovered here in the last five years. It’s essentially a species factory, says Erdmann, adding that over time it will disperse outward.

Raja Ampat’s network of seven marine protected areas, which together protect 1.2 million hectares (close to 3 million acres) of the most biodiverse reefs on the planet, are the first such network in Indonesia, and the largest network of marine protected areas in Southeast Asia. According to Erdmann:

"Another reason Raja Ampat is really important is that it has a very low human population density overall, still relatively intact reefs, and the community here actually own these reefs, which is a unique situation on the planet that allows us to do some very interesting things conservation-wise.

We're working with these communities to set these reefs aside, much like Misool Eco Resort has done, and in doing that you are actually creating a model that could potentially be applied to the rest of the planet, where people typically look at the ocean as a commons, where you can do whatever you want.

If we can get it right here where people actually own the reefs, that theoretically could inform the way we manage the oceans in the rest of the world."

Tourism Helps Fund Eco Conservation Efforts

Marine tourism in Raja Ampat has been growing at a rate of 30 to 45 percent in the past five years, notes the film. As a marine protected area, tourists are charged a fee to enter. In 2010, this generated $230,000 for conservation and community programs, the latter of which is another major focus on Misool Eco Resort.

In the film, Andrew makes it clear that he’s aware he has never been anything more than a guest on Batbitim island, which is why he allocates resort and tourism profits to support community-led projects, such as job training and new employment opportunities designed to help former shark finners and illegal fisherman transition into fruitful careers centered on conservation.

Batbitim island has five teachers, three of which are funded by Misool Eco Resort. The resort also launched a floating library that visits three nearby schools and supplies local children with books on conservation.

Misool Eco Resort has an orchard on the island where it grows some of its own food, including bananas and papayas, and raises chickens. It also has wastewater gardens that naturally filter waste.

The resort buys all of its fish from local fisherman who sell their catch from small canoes. The resort avoids buying reef fish (due to the species' threatened status) and instead buys only blue water fish such as tuna and mackerel.

Balancing the demands of investors and conservation is no easy task, says Andrew. Some of the investors disagree with the amount of money spent on patrolling the resort’s No Take Zone, as they think it should go toward the business side of things.

"It's a nightmare sometimes," says Andrew, adding that unless you live and work here, you have no idea how difficult it is to preserve and protect the No Take Zone. "We constantly have to convince people it's worth putting money into."