Last week while on holiday, I was lucky enough to spend 6 days snorkeling in the Bunaken Island National Marine Park (BINMP). The park is located in northern Sulewesi Indonesia almost right on the equator. BINMP was established in 1991 and covers a land and sea area of 16,000 sq km. There are 4 islands that make up the park, Bunaken, Siladen, Manado Tua and Nain. It’s one of the most marine biodiverse areas anywhere containing over 3,000 species of fish and 300 species of coral. One of BINMP claims to fame is that it’s also home to the Coelancanth, a real living fossil fish that has leg-like appendages and whose history stretches back millions of years in the fossil record. The park collects fees from visitors that go directly back into park management and conservation efforts – a first for Indonesia and a model other SE Asian countries are looking at. For more information on the BINMP and how it is structured the Two Divers website has good information.

The jumping off point for visits to the park is the city of Manado, where you can catch a boat out to one of the park’s islands that have a variety of resorts (small semi-rustic) servicing the dive community. We stayed at Bastianos on Bunaken Island and found a delightful summer camp type atmosphere with group meals and easy access to some of the best reefs we’ve ever found. My wife and I don’t scuba dive we only snorkel, so joining the daily dive boat would have been very limiting. It didn’t prove much of a problem to hire a small local outrigger boat for our snorkeling adventures. There are many local folks involved in supplying services to visitors providing direct economic benefits to the local population. This direct link of economic benefits to local villagers gives them real incentive to care for their park.

After talking with folks to get some current information we decided to take our first swim on the east side of Bunaken island. Jumping in, within minutes we knew we were in a really special place. Over the past decade we’ve made snorkeling trips to reefs all over the world and we have never found a more beautiful and healthy coral reef anywhere. Hundreds of various corals and thousands of tropical fish greeted us. Looking at each other all we could say was WOW! This is what we’ve been searching years to find. Take a look for yourself.

This entire introduction leads me to my main message – Marine Reserves Work!
Bunaken is a very special place with thriving reefs and abundant fish. It’s too bad we haven’t already protected ocean ecosystems through the widespread use of Marine Reserves in special places all across our world’s oceans. There could be places that WOW you everywhere if we can find the political will to create a global network of marine reserves. BINMP is an extraordinary example of ocean protection flourishing ecosystems and local benefits.  

-- Phil Kline
Oceans Campaigner