“Our approach in Raja Ampat was not to come in talking, rather to come in listening” ~ Dr. Mark Erdmann

Mark Erdmann, marine conservation, ocean issues, marine tourism, coral reefs, coral restoration, marine protected areas, save the oceanDr. Mark Erdmann is a Coral Reef Ecologist (Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley) and senior advisor for Conservation International-Indonesia’s marine program:

“In 2002, I had the opportunity to come to Raja Ampat to do a marine-biodiversity study and in 2003 Conservation International asked me to lead their conservation efforts in the area. From a marine biodiversity aspect Raja Ampat is second to none and is spectacularly beautiful both above and below water.


We saw cyanide fishing; shark finning … they were raping these reefs at an alarming rate.


However, we immediately saw that there were a lot of issues. It was far from being a pristine wonderland, rather we saw bomb fishing wherever we looked; cyanide fishing; shark finning; and local communities that believed their traditional rights insuring ownership of these reefs were being marginalized and outside fishermen were raping these reefs at an alarming rate. It was a biological wonderland with amazing local communities and all of the components were there for an amazing conservation test story, but at the same time it had a lot of issues.”

Mark says that this area, known as the Coral Triangle, is culturally part of Melanesia and is one of the few places on the planet where the local communities have marine tenure as well as land tenure. This means that individual families, or clans own the right of fishing on the reefs and consequently feel the need to protect that reef. “That was something we could focus on.”  Related News: Cruise ship grounds on pristine coral reef in Raja Ampat National Marine Park causing severe damage, see full post here.


Our approach in Raja Ampat was not to come in talking, rather to come in listening.


“Conservation is all about changing people’s behaviour and this has been the big problem conservationists have had in the past. They have taken a top down approach thinking that their view, which is a western view, is all about biodiversity. We do need to let these communities know how important their biodiversity is, and that it is important to protect. However these communities have lived there long before there was dive tourism and long before there was anyone thinking about conservation. It’s their livelihood. It’s important that when you want to do conservation in an area you couch it in a manner that the local community understands. Our approach in Raja Ampat was not to come in talking, rather to come in listening and meet with these local communities and let them talk about what are the issues that they have on a day to day basis. …then we try to steer them toward a realization of how we can work together for their betterment. Of course we are worried about biodiversity, but how can we make them feel that biodiversity and conservation are a benefit to them? It is not rocket science but it is something that has been overlooked in conservation efforts around the world.”

Since 1998, Mark has worked closely with dive operators in both North Sulawesi and Raja Ampat to ensure that marine tourism plays a central role in marine conservation initiatives in those areas. During this time he has logged over 10,000 scuba dives while surveying marine biodiversity throughout the Coral Triangle region. Mark now lives with his wife Arnaz and three children (Mica, Brahm and Cruz) in Bali, but he maintains a deep personal commitment to do whatever is necessary to address ocean issues and to ensure his children will be able to enjoy the same high-quality underwater experiences that continue to inspire him.

Mark maintains a Research Associate position with the California Academy of Sciences and is a scientific advisor to the Manta Trust. Mark has published 120 scientific articles and 5 books, including most recently the 3-volume set “Reef Fishes of the East Indies” with colleague Dr. Gerald Allen. Erdmann was awarded a Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation in 2004 for his work in marine education. Though his work is now largely focused on the management of marine protected areas, his continuing research interests include reef fish and mantis shrimp biodiversity, genetic connectivity in MPA networks, and coral restoration techniques.


Learn about the local communities of Melanesia and their marine tenure.


Join us to listen to Dr. Erdmann and learn more about his programs working with the local communities of Melanesia and their marine tenure. Find his entire interview here at Blue Ocean Summit 2014: Dr. Mark Erdmann. Also make sure to check out his 3-volume book set Reef Fishes of the East Indies. 

Michael AW PhD is an author, explorer, photographer and conservationist and offers four key concepts to help us better understand and have impact on serious marine conservation issues. First, we must eat less fish and understand our sustainable choices. Farmed salmon and shrimp are not sustainable and destroying the oceans. Second, children are our only hope to shift this world. We must engage the kids in the environmental message so that adults will wake up. Third by protecting iconic animals like sharks and polar bears, we are protecting ourselves. Fourth, in order to protect our livelihoods and our lives, we must become ocean activists.

To find out more about Michael’s success in getting countries to pass a ban on shark finning read his article “Can I be an Ocean Activist and Run a Successful Business.” 

For more information about Dr. Mark Erdmann, read his professional bio.