My research tracks how conservationists, ecotourists, and Papuan locals in the Indonesian district of Raja Ampat understand and interact with coral reefs. The world’s coral reefs are in the middle of an unprecedented crisis, and scientists warn that coral reefs will effectively be gone by 2050, if global trends continue–the first entire ecosystem to disappear as a direct result of human-made changes to the world’s environment. Amidst these dire predictions, the coral reefs of Raja Ampat – the world’s most biodiverse coral reefs – offer a ray of hope, for in spite of recurrent global bleaching events in recent years, the coral reefs of Raja Ampat are thriving.
I have undertaken multispecies fieldwork for several years in this coral “hope spot”, a marine natural park that attracts thousands of dive tourists annually, combining interviews with biologists, tourists, and locals about coral with “immersion methods” that follow locals in fishing and marine gathering trips and tourists on coral reef dives. My approach is to align current anthropological analysis of multispecies life worlds with ongoing biological research. While contemporary marine biology suggests that biodiversity itself offers resilience for corals against global warming – a hypothesis in which Raja Ampat features prominently – I have concurrently been tracing local millenarian ideas of multispecies paradise in this same area. I suggest that corals in general and those of Raja Ampat in particular offer a particularly clear vantage point to think about hope and despair in the Anthropocene.