Misool is owned and operated by a passionate group of divers, conservationists, eco-geeks, and dreamers
From here, Marit and Andrew's stories intertwine to become the story of Misool.
During a sunny surface interval in between dives, Marit and Andrew explored the remote island of Batbitim, Misool. There they discovered a recently abandoned shark finning camp that had clearly been contributing to the 100 million sharks slaughtered each year, primarily to meet the voracious demands of the shark fin soup industry.
Appalled by what they saw, and inspired to protect what we now know to be one of the most bio-diverse places on earth, Andrew contacted the local clans and asked for their permission to build a conservation centre on Batbitim Island. With the elders’ blessings, Marit and Andrew set about their task.
Unfortunately, Marit and Andrew had A) no experience or education in conservation, architecture, construction, or small island politics, and B) no money for what quickly ballooned into a much bigger project than anticipated. But they did have plenty of enthusiasm and energy. Eventually they found co-conspirators and investors who also believed in their vision: creating 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.
With the backing of a handful of supporters, Marit and Andrew began construction in 2005, alongside dozens of workers recruited from as near as the village next door and as far away as Java, Germany, and the UK.
It worked. In 2008, after two and a half very long years of construction (and sleeping underneath plastic tarps, subsisting on soggy rice and old eggs, and periodically breaking out in boils from malnutrition), Misool opened its doors to its first guests. Since then it has welcomed a diverse array of visitors, from conservationists and nature nerds to weary city folk looking to get away from it all, snorkelling 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. (There are 60+ dive sites in Misool’s Marine Reserve.)
In the dozen years since the Miners’ 2005 decision to link private enterprise and conservation, the island that was once a shark-finning camp has flourished. In 2017, the industry’s World Travel & Tourist Council awarded its most prestigious prize, the Tourism for Tomorrow Award, to Misool. The resort has also been featured in The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveller, and National Geographic Traveler.
Misool’s conservation initiatives, including the Misool Marine Reserve, have also blossomed. The reserve has now grown to 300,000 acres. (That’s nearly twice the size of Singapore; also the size of all 5 boroughs of New York City combined.) A salaried 15-person team of local rangers, many of them former shark finners, patrols the region using a 5-boat fleet and radar surveillance to prevent fishing. The result has been a 250% average increase in biomass inside the reserve over a 6-year period. There are 25 times more sharks on Misool’s reefs than there were 10 years ago — and far more mantas, too.
In 2011, the Misool Marine Reserve, plus other conservation initiatives, was streamlined into a registered Indonesian charity: Misool Foundation. Its initiatives include a community recycling program that rescues two tons of ocean bound plastic each day, pays locals bringing it in, and doubles as a bank in a community with few other institutional options for saving and safeguarding personal funds. In addition, the foundation’s manta ray and whale shark program in Lamakera works with the community of fishers and hunters to transition them to other well-paying sustainable work. (As a direct result of our program the hunting of mantas and whale sharks has already decreased dramatically.)
Today, Misool represents one of the most pristine reef systems left on earth. According to a May 2017 assessment by Dr. Mark Erdmann, marine biologist, coral reef ecologist, and Vice President of Conservation International’s Asia-Pacific marine programs, Misool is “one of only a handful of places in the universe where biodiversity is improving rather than declining.” Erdmann also raved that “There is greater biodiversity — that is to say, a larger number and greater diversity of fish, coral, and mollusks — on these reefs than anywhere on earth.”
When it comes to coral, a single football field-sized patch of Misool’s reefs has nearly five times the number of coral species as the entire Caribbean Sea. The 1,564 species of reef fish found in Raja Ampat’s one million acres is 3 times greater than the 500 different species observed in the entire 680 million acres the Caribbean covers. The relative density of fish species in Raja Ampat to the Caribbean is 200:1.
Today, the Raja Ampat government recognizes the reserve’s role in local economic development. It has just awarded the Misool Foundation $90,000 US dollars to fund two local projects. The first will be a mariculture facility in the local village that will keep 32 former fishermen employed breeding and raising giant clams and other mollusks valued by the local community. The second is a women’s project that processes raw coconut oil into bars of soap that will be used at the resort and sold in a small shop whose profits go back into community economic development projects.