With the forest undergrowth his stage, a bird of paradise begins his show-stopping performance. Extravagant feathers and a captivating routine are his secret weapons – his hypnotic display an attempt to impress a potential match. His siren call echoes through the trees as he darts from branch to branch in this long-established ritual.

Wilson’s and red birds of paradise join over 270 other bird species in the islands of Raja Ampat, located just off the aptly named Bird’s Head Peninsula of Papua, Indonesia. The archipelago sprawls over 46,000 square kilometres, both large and small islands home to a unique assemblage of species. Alongside birds, 40 amphibian, 52 reptile, 32 terrestrial mammal and 400 tree species have been recorded. Illegal wildlife trade and deforestation for infrastructure development are jeopardising the future of these forest-dependent species.

Forested islands and limestone outcrops in the Raja Ampat archipelago. Credit: Zafer Kizilkaya
Forested islands and limestone outcrops in the Raja Ampat archipelago. Credit: Zafer Kizilkaya

The effects of deforestation are not restricted to Raja Ampat’s terrestrial ecosystems – deforestation leads to greater soil erosion, which has a knock-on effect on surrounding coral reefs and seagrass. Raja Ampat boasts tremendous marine diversity, earning its status as a scuba-diving paradise within the globally renowned Coral Triangle.

These waters are justifiably famous for their breathtaking coral reefs. Credit: Zafer Kizilkaya
These waters are justifiably famous for their breathtaking coral reefs. Credit: Zafer Kizilkaya

Home to 553 coral species, 15 marine mammals, 1,476 different types of coral reef fish and 700 types of molluscs, Raja Ampat also hosts important seagrass beds, which provide safety and shelter for juvenile fish and are a vital food source for green turtles and gentle dugong. Not only vital for the marine ecosystem, seagrass is also a hugely important carbon store.

Green turtles are among the marine species attracted to Raja Ampat's seagrass beds. Credit: Zafer Kizilkaya
Green turtles are among the marine species attracted to Raja Ampat’s seagrass beds. Credit: Davdeka/BigStockPhoto

Recognising the interdependence of forest and marine conservation, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) joined forces with Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry (through the West Papua arm of Natural Resources Conservation Agency, BKSDA) and with Raja Ampat district government, and embarked on an ambitious ‘ridge to reef’ project, linking marine and terrestrial protected areas. With support from the Darwin Initiative and OroVerde – Die Tropenwaldstiftung, FFI is focusing on the islands of Waigeo and Misool, working in close partnership with local NGO, Yayasan Nazaret Papua.

Handmade baskets, produced using natural dyes, from a local women's cooperative. Credit: Ana R Septiana/FFI
Handmade baskets, produced using natural dyes, from a local women’s cooperative. Credit: Ana R Septiana/FFI

Through awareness raising, collaborative patrolling and the development of alternative livelihoods – particularly related to birdwatching and broader ecotourism activities, we aim to conserve Raja Ampat’s marine and terrestrial biodiversity while ensuring sustainable economic opportunities for local communities.

For a dugong’s eye view of Raja Ampat, take a short swim through the seagrass…