Banda Islands – Where Sea and Spices Changed the World
Located in the heart of the Coral Triangle, these rugged volcanic islands boast some of the most spectacular reef systems in the world. The archipelago, in Indonesia’s Maluku Province, is a critical area for sea turtles, the endangered Napoleon wrasse, mandarin fish, and yellowfin tuna, as well as a multitude of coral and coral reef fish species. The area is also an important migratory route for blue whales, and other marine mammals.
CTC has worked with the local government, communities, and global partners to build up a network of marine protected areas which aim to support local customs and livelihoods, while protecting marine and coastal ecosystems.
The Banda Islands MPA Network
The 11 small volcanic islands which make up the archipelago sit in the Banda Sea, rising out of the Weber Deep, which, at 7.2 kilometres deep, is the deepest part of the Earth’s ocean that is not in a trench.
These unusual conditions make the surrounding waters rich in unique and spectacular marine life. The islands are not only important because they are home to abundant marine life, they are also responsible for restocking areas far away with marine species, thanks to powerful currents that sweep through the region.
Napoleon Wrasse © Robert Delfs
The people living in the islands rely on these waters for their livelihoods and as a source of food. Fishing has been a mainstay of life for many generations, and the communities on the islands have strong bonds to the sea. But destructive practices have damaged reef systems, and impacted fish stocks. Back in 1977 the importance of these islands was already recognized, and part of the archipelago was designated as a marine protected area covering 25km2. But with the increasing need to preserve and sustainably manage this critical resource, the decision was made in 2009 to expand protection of the area to create a network of MPAs covering approximately 1,000km2. Under the leadership of the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, this network of MPAs aims to protect the most critical areas surrounding the islands for biodiversity and food security.
Since 2012, CTC has been supporting the government, local partners and Banda communities to design and develop a resilient MPA network across the archipelago. With working through a bottom-up approach, and incorporating traditional knowledge and wisdom from local coastal communities, in 2014 the Banda Marine Tourism Park (Taman Wisata Perairan Laut Banda, or TWP Banda) was formalised with a zoning system and management plan, and the Ay and Rhun Islands MPA was gazetted under village agreement. This was swiftly followed in 2015 by the declaration of another MPA in the network – the Hatta Island MPA. All the MPAs have zoning plans to conserve and manage the marine environment and fisheries whilst respecting traditional fishing grounds and practices.
The Ay and Rhun Islands MPA was declared through the MMAF Ministerial Decree No. 48 of 2021, signed on June 21, 2021. It covers an area between two small islands, around 61,178.53 hectares and incorporates a zoning system to support sustainable fisheries and growth in marine tourism, while protecting endangered marine species, such as the amazing Napoleon Wrasse fish, and conserving precious marine and coastal ecosystems. The MPA is guarded and regularly monitored by two established local community surveillance groups (Pokmaswas), namely Naelaka in the Rhun Island and Lawere in the Ay Island.
The Small Islands That Changed The World
The world’s sole source of nutmeg until the mid-19th century, the Banda Islands drew traders from across the world for thousands of years. Merchants from China and the Middle East may have reached the Banda Islands as early as the 9th century, while the Portuguese and Dutch arrived in the 16th century. In 1621, the Dutch took over the archipelago in efforts to globally dominate nutmeg trade. By the early 20th century, however, the nutmeg trade had declined and with them, the political importance of the Banda Islands to the Dutch government. The islands became a place for revolutionaries and nationalists in the years preceding Indonesian independence in 1945. Today, fortresses, buildings and ports found across the islands still speak to its colorful history of colonization and trade
Banda Island MPA Network
In the 1600s the British occupants of Rhun Island, one of the smallest in the Banda archipelago, made a deal with the Dutch to trade the highly valued island, rich in nutmeg, for the swampy island of New Amsterdam, now known as Manhattan. The island swap was part of the Treaty of Breda, signed on July 31, 1667, to end the second Anglo-Dutch War, and it gave the Dutch a monopoly over nutmeg, which was worth more than gold at the time, and set the scene for British dominance in North America.

Conducted the Banda Sea marine ecological rapid assessment; initiated Ay-Rhun MPA and the Banda MPA Network.


Provided inputs for TWP Laut Banda MPA Zoning Design and Management Plan; disseminated results of Banda Sea marine ecological rapid assessment results; initiated Hatta Island MPA with ILMMA.


Conducted reef health monitoring (RHM); supported the development of Ay Island MPA zoning plan and Ay Island conservation team; supported Ay Island declaration as local MPA under village regulation and revitalization of sasi system; supported the finalization of the TWP Laut Banda zoning and management plan.


Conducted RHM and supported declaration of Hatta Island as a local MPA under village regulation.


Maluku Province reserved the Ay-Rhun MPA; Central Maluku Regency legalized Ay Island conservation team.


Conducted RHM; supported the development of the Ay-Rhun MPA zoning and management plan and establishment of Banda Islands MPA Network Management Forum.


Conducted RHM; supported development of Banda Islands MPA Network Forum structure and work plan.


Conducted biophysical and socio-economic surveys in in TWP Laut Banda and in the Ay-Rhun MPA; supported the establishment of the Ay-Rhun Island MPA Task Force and MPA Management Unit.


The Ay and Rhun Islands MPA was declared through the MMAF Ministerial Decree No. 48 of 2021, signed on June 21, 2021.


Scoping and evaluation undertaken across the Banda Islands, including manta tow marine monitoring and marine rapid surveys. Initial engagement and consultation with communities and assessment of network opportunities.


Extensive community based socialization of MPA concept, sharing of scientific and traditional knowledge, establishment of community fora, and identification of opportunities, capacity needs and early planning.


Banda sea MPA (pre-existing) zone design completed and new management plan formally approved. Ay Island MPA zone design completed and approved under village regulation, with community conservation team established.


Regular recurring monitoring practices established through the archipelago, measuring reef health and socio-economic conditions. Hatta Island MPA zone design complete, approved under village regulation, and community conservation team established. A Community Learning Center established at Ay Island.

Banda Islands as a Field Learning Site
The CTC team works with local partners to conduct surveys of reef ecosystems, as well as social surveys with local communities to gain a holistic understanding of the challenges the MPA network faces, and how to build an adaptively managed network that supports communities and marine life. Surveys completed in November 2019 across Ay and Rhun islands showed that communities are supportive of developing the MPA, and are already seeing the positive impact conservation is having in the area.
Simultaneous biophysical surveys showed that while overall hard coral cover has declined somewhat since 2012, many reefs previously damaged through blast fishing are showing signs of recovery, and coral diversity remains high. Data collected also showed that targeted fish species such as grouper, snapper, and giant trevally are in abundant supply, meaning fish stocks can support the artisanal fishing practices in the islands while maintaining healthy marine ecosystems.
As one of the top ocean predators, cetaceans, play an important role in the health of marine ecosystems. CTC works with partners to study their migration patterns and build the capacity of local MPA stakeholders to conduct rapid ecological assessments in the Banda and Ceram Seas. The MPA network and surrounding areas have been identified as critical habitat for cetaceans, including blue whales, spinner dolphins, pilot whales and the mysterious Cuvier’s beaked whale. Ensuring local stakeholders have the capacity to include incorporate cetacean conservation into MPA management plans is crucial to their protection, with over half of all cetacean species currently listed as either vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered.
CTC’s work in the Banda Islands provides opportunities for visitors, volunteers, interns and researchers to learn about a range of topics related to MPA design, development and collaborative management. This includes topics such as biophysical and socio-economic surveying and monitoring techniques, public consultation mechanisms and community engagement, locally-managed marine area design and development, and charismatic species surveys and research. CTC also works to build up the integration of traditional knowledge with modern scientific techniques to create a resilient MPA network. In addition to this, lessons learned from the Banda Islands MPA Network development are being utilized for our CTC training programs, and shared through our learning networks.
Drop us an email  to learn more about our work in the Banda Islands MPA Network
Download Banda Islands MPA Network Infosheet. Watch a video here!
Become a Friend of CTC to support our work in the Banda Islands.
Coral Triangle Center