Recently announced tourism infrastructure plans for Indonesia’s Komodo National Park has ignited a string of protests from locals and activists. The park is part of the Pacific Coral Triangle and spans over 29 pristine islands that have been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The area is supposedly protected from development under Indonesian law, which is why residents of the administrative region of the park, known as the West Manggarai district, are in uproar over the plans.
In 2014 and 2015, developers PT Komodo Wildlife Ecotourism (KWE) and PT Segara Komodo Lestari (SKL) obtained licenses to build accommodations, a sightseeing facility and a restaurant on the three main islands of the Komodo reserve. The islands, Padar, Rinca and Komodo, are the largest of the 29 that encompass the national park, and the latter two are exclusively dedicated to the Komodo dragon. This awe-inspiring reptile is the world’s largest lizard, but it is also listed as threatened on the IUCN’s Red List.
“The local government, together with the national government and tourism businesses, must maintain Komodo National Park as a conservation zone to ensure tourism that’s environmentally friendly and free from exploitation and commercialization,” said Rafael Todowela, head of the West Manggarai Community Forum to Save Tourism. “Conservation is to protect the Komodo dragons, not investors.”
Responding to the uproar, Wiratno, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s director general, insisted the eco-tourism plans would leave a minimal footprint on the islands. The plans include environmentally friendly building materials that are sourced locally, such as bamboo, as well as solar panels and zero-waste management systems. He said that the developers would be using far less land — around 10 percent of the 600 hectares (1,482 acres) — than they were allocated. Only locals would be employed at the facilities, which would use 5 percent of profits to boost smaller businesses in the area.
Wiratno said the locals have no issue with the development plans. But residents, such as Alimudin of Komodo Village, are calling foul. “The locals are banned from doing any development work in any part of the national park for the sake of conservation,” Alimudin said. He also emphasized the residents’ interest in ensuring the protection of the Komodo dragon and its rightful habitat. Agrarian researcher Eko Cahyono said, “The tourism policy is a form of ‘green grabbing’: grabbing the locals’ land under the guise of conservation and environmental protection.”