ECOTOURISM AS A CONSERVATION STRATEGY IN KOMODO NATIONAL
University of Auckland
Introduction1 often fails to deliver on claims that it
… ecotourism represents one contributes to rural development. Instead, it
of the few areas where the link may be more conducive to meeting
between economic develop- traditionally exclusionary conservation goals.
ment and conservation of Without significant involvement in and
natural areas is potentially clear benefit from protected area tourism and with
and direct. (Brandon 1996:ii) tough restrictions or prohibitions on other
forms of resource use, park residents
Ecotourism development has become a struggle to meet subsistence needs to the
prominent approach to address socio- extent that resettlement may be the only
economic concerns in a conservation option to sustain their livelihoods. This
context. Ecotourism is said to be a form of strategy of marginalising park residents to
resource use that contributes both to the extent of exclusion is in accordance with
conservation and rural development by a renewed emphasis on traditional
generating revenue for park management protectionist approaches to conservation
and by providing local communities with and protected area management, which
sustainable livelihood alternatives and prioritise ecological imperatives ahead of
economic benefits. Hence, ecotourism could socio-economic objectives under the
be considered an ideal means of furthering perception of a global biodiversity crisis (see
the sustainable development paradigm in a Wilshusen et al. 2002). The adoption of an
protected area context, by meeting ‘the ecotourism discourse allows
needs of the present without compromising conservationists to criminalise other forms of
the ability of future generations to meet their resource use, yet within the policy
own needs’ (WCED 1987:43; see also requirements of pursuing benefit sharing
Fennell 1999:10; Brandon 1996). The and sustainable use of natural resources as
conservation community has adopted the outlined in the Convention on Biological
ecotourism concept as a means to partake Diversity (CBD 1992).
in the sustainable development discourse
and thus justify conservation regimes in the This paper discusses conservation and
face of development needs particularly in community development strategies in
the South (see Campbell 2002; Honey Komodo National Park (KNP), Indonesia.
1999:76). Moreover, conservation The national conservation agency – the
organisations have thus gained access to Directorate General of Forest Protection and
funding traditionally allocated to Nature Conservation (PHKA, formerly PKA)
development (Campbell 2000:171; Honey – and the American environmental NGO The
1999:76). Nature Conservancy (TNC) promote
ecotourism as one alternative to extractive
Under current conservation regimes, resource use in the Park. While marine
customary forms of resource use, such as resource extraction has been considerably
agriculture and fishing, are often restricted, adequate alternatives have thus
conceptualised as potentially unsustainable far not been provided to park residents.
and are restricted or prohibited. Instead, Moreover, benefits from tourism have not
conservationists promote ecotourism as the yet materialised and are unlikely to provide
most sustainable form of resource use. As a feasible livelihood options in the future, as
proposed alternative, however, ecotourism the industry is set to remain externally
owned and operated. Ultimately, current incidence of destructive fishing practices.
approaches to conservation and community However, tougher restrictions also
development suggest that a long-term considerably impact on the livelihoods of
objective is the eventual relocation of park local people, as suitable alternatives to
residents to neighbouring islands. banned or restricted forms of resource use
have not yet been provided.
The Conservation of Komodo National
Park Approaches to Sustainable Use
Historically, approaches to nature In 2000 the PHKA together with TNC
conservation were fundamentally based on finalised a 25-year management plan,
the notion of wilderness, as epitomised in according to which the provision of
the North American national park concept. alternative livelihoods to communities within
This concept, often referred to as the and surrounding the Park is to compensate
‘Yellowstone model’ (Stevens 1997:285), local resource users for restrictions on
emphasises the preservation of pristine marine resource use. This approach is in
nature for conservation, recreation and accordance with the prominence of the
scientific purposes (Fennell 1999:78). It is sustainable development paradigm and the
characterised by the forced relocation of acknowledgement of development needs of
communities or by restrictions on resource communities within and surrounding
use within the designated park area (Brechin protected areas. Over the past two decades,
et al. 1991). Such restrictions on the use of political and philosophical debates around
resources that local inhabitants historically the rights and needs of local resource users
depended upon for daily subsistence furthered the discussion on the necessity to
severely affected their livelihoods and reconcile conservation objectives with
denied basic human needs, leading to human needs (Campbell 2000; Stevens
resource use conflicts that continue to 1997; Ghimire and Pimbert 1997; West and
determine many conservation contexts to Brechin 1991). These debates paved the
date (Ghimire and Pimbert 1997; Stevens way for institutionalising the provision of
1997; West and Brechin 1991). benefit sharing and sustainable resource
use along with conservation objectives, as
Komodo National Park is one such example. articulated in the Convention on Biological
The Park was established in 1980. It was Diversity (CBD 1992). In particular the
further recognised as a Biosphere Reserve discourse on the sustainable use of natural
by UNESCO in 1977 and inscribed on the resources and biodiversity has become a
UNESCO World Heritage List in 1992 prominent rationale for nature conservation,
(Goodwin et al. 1997:9-10). KNP is and it is propagated in the Komodo context.
particularly known for accommodating the It is argued that biodiversity must be
Komodo monitor, Varanus komodoensis, the valuable if it is to be conserved, and that
world’s largest living lizard. Moreover, the value is derived through utilisation
surrounding seas are said to be among the (Campbell 2002:30). Sustainable use is
richest in the world (ibid.:34). Over the past defined in the Convention on Biological
decades, the marine environment came Diversity (CBD 1992:4) as:
under increasing pressure particularly from
non-park inhabitants and commercial … the use of components of
enterprises from as far away as Sulawesi, biological diversity in a way and
who are still largely responsible for at a rate that does not lead to
overexploitation and marine habitat the long-term decline of
destruction (PKA and TNC 2000a:33). TNC biological diversity, thereby
became involved in supporting the PHKA in maintaining its potential to meet
park management in 1995 to address the the needs and aspirations of
threats of destructive fishing practices to the present and future generations.
marine ecosystem. Although legislation for
park protection had been established, Sustainable use can take a number of
enforcement of it had not been implemented forms. It ranges from ‘consumptive’ forms of
(Pet and Djohani 1998:23). With the support resource extraction such as agriculture and
of TNC, rigid enforcement decreased the fishing, to ecotourism, which
conservationists often conceptualise as afforded by resource users from outside the
‘non-consumptive’, as it is conceived to be Park, who have further been identified as
non-extractive (Campbell 2002:30; Brandon posing the greatest threat to marine species
1998:394). The definition of sustainability and habitat (ibid.:27). The available data
remains the domain of conservationists who indeed specifies that only a small group of
may disregard local socio-economic needs park residents has been responsible for
in favour of conservation objectives. Led by utilising harvesting methods considered
the perception of a global biodiversity crisis, destructive (PKA and TNC 2000b:72). Yet
the conception of sustainable use is often the conception of the practice as
subject to the prioritisation of ecological unsustainable per se and its subsequent
imperatives. Robinson (1993:24) argues that prohibition supported by tough enforcement
‘any use of a species (…) is likely to has considerably impacted on the
encourage the overall loss of biodiversity’. livelihoods of the disadvantaged majority of
He emphasises that an approach to communities within the Park.
improving the quality of human life within the
carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems As a consequence, these resource users
is ultimately at the expense of the suffer food shortage for at least four months
conservation of natural resources and of the year, when meting is their main
biodiversity (ibid.:22; see also Redford and source of income. Thus, while restrictions on
Sanderson 2000). Subsequently, ‘non-use’, marine resource use in general affect the
or strictly limited use, is often considered to majority of the surrounding population,
be the only successful approach to communities within the Park bear the
biodiversity conservation and nature highest costs under restrictions on this
protection, suggesting a renewed emphasis particular resource use practice. Indeed, one
on traditionally protectionist and could suggest that they have been singled
exclusionary conservation approaches (see out in an attempt to promote ‘voluntary
Campbell 2002; Wilshusen et al. 2002). resettlement’ out of the Park, which is an
Ecotourism, as a supposedly non- official policy of the management initiative,
consumptive form of resource use is thus as the carrying capacity of the Park is said
regarded as an ideal option. However, to have been exceeded (see PKA and TNC
considering the potential ecological impacts 2000b:66). Migration into the Park does
of nature-based tourism, such as the pose a potential problem, but the current
disturbance of wildlife and ecosystems, it policy of neglect not only discourages
may be a questionable alternative to local migration. It further impinges considerably
resource use (see Hughes 2002; van der on the lives of communities already resident
Duim and Caalders 2002). The conception within the Park, and suggests that livelihood
of sustainability that supports ecotourism alternatives are denied in an attempt to rid
ahead of other forms of resource use may the Park off its inhabitants. Although TNC
ultimately be based on double standards. introduced a number of alternative livelihood
programs in fishing and mariculture, to date
This dilemma is quite evident in KNP, where three of the four communities within the Park
many customary forms of marine resource have not been targeted by these programs.
use have been restricted. Moreover, TNC Instead, the programs have thus far focused
claims that the collection of shellfish and on those communities outside the Park
marine invertebrates (meting), a form of which are held responsible for destructive
resource use upon which many park resource use practices. Ironically, resource
residents rely for subsistence, is ‘highly user groups likely to be least responsible for
destructive’ (Pet and Djohani 1998:23) and resource degradation pay the highest price
is condemned even in ‘its simplest version’ for resource protection and are further
(ibid.:18). This has ultimately led to its criminalised in their attempts to meet
prohibition. The practice has in fact become subsistence needs.
more destructive in incidence and impact
through the combination of higher market With resource extraction restricted or
prices for some of the harvested products prohibited, the involvement of local people in
and the availability of better equipment. tourism development and the provision of
However, such equipment can only be economic benefits from tourism would thus
be crucial steps to meet the subsistence and tourism are used interchangeably (see
livelihood needs of communities within KNP. Brandon 1996:ii). In that case, ecotourism
The PHKA and TNC have emphasised the may merely be a form of conventional
potential for tourism development in KNP, as externally owned and operated nature-
ecotourism is considered ‘[p]erhaps the based tourism, while it does not provide for
most obvious sustainable use of the Park’s the local socio-economic components the
resources’ (PKA and TNC 2000a:57). concept is supposed to entail.
However, to date ecotourism as a rural
development strategy has failed to meet the In the context of tourism development in
needs of park residents. KNP, the PHKA and TNC refer to providing
benefits to and involving local communities
Ecotourism Development (see PKA and TNC 2000a:57). However, the
Ecotourism has become one of the most overall conception of ‘ecotourism’ is more
influential slogans of the 1990s in the reminiscent of traditional nature tourism.
conservation and protected area Accordingly,
management context. It ‘emerged like a
phoenix from terms like nature tourism and [e]co-tourism is defined as
wildlife tourism to become a universal visiting natural areas to view
conservation catchword, an exemplar of and enjoy the plant and animal
sustainable use’ (Western 1992, in Honey life with minimal or no impact
1999:21, emphasis in the original). The on the environment. (ibid.)
concept is distinguished from conventional
nature-based tourism both by its socio- Moreover, tourism in and around KNP has
economic implications (Ross and Wall 1999; historically been under foreign control and
Scheyvens 1999) and its potential to ownership, and most of the revenue is
contribute to conservation efforts by generated outside the local economy, while
providing for the self-financing of protected revenue generated at the local economic
areas through user fees and concessions level does not benefit communities within
(Dharmaratne et al. 2000). Through the the Park (Walpole and Goodwin 2000;
provision of benefits and economic Goodwin et al. 1997; Hitchcock 1993). To
alternatives to rural communities, change this condition would require focusing
ecotourism is considered a valid response to on developing the capacity of park residents
resource use conflicts, particularly in to become involved in tourism planning,
protected areas (Brandon 1996). Ecotourism management and operation. More
development ideally relies on the significantly, as the poor and disadvantaged
involvement of a range of interest groups community members suffer most under
and the participation and empowerment of resource use restrictions, they should
rural communities. The devolution of control become the beneficiaries of ecotourism
and a level of ownership to rural development unless other alternatives are
communities is considered an essential provided. However, to date there has been
component of this approach (Ross and Wall little benefit to and involvement of park
1999:124; Scheyvens 1999:246; Brandon residents. The few economic benefits from
1996:29). Community involvement in tourism that accrue to a handful of people
planning, management and operation of hardly suffice to even meet their subsistence
ecotourism becomes an indicator of the needs, and most of them continue to remain
extent to which communities benefit from engaged in fishing activities as well.
ecotourism, not only economically, but
further socially and politically, as a means of Moreover, future tourism development on
empowerment (Scheyvens 1999). the islands is considerably restricted, and
tourism infrastructure will continue to be
However, both in theory and practice, the developed outside the Park only (PKA and
distinction between the broad field of nature- TNC 2000a:57), while the limited
based tourism and its subset ecotourism is infrastructure within the Park is owned and
not always clearly defined and there are operated by the civil servants of the national
many areas for overlap (Burton 1997:757). park authority (Goodwin et al. 1997:54ff).
Frequently, ecotourism and nature-based Plans to develop highly professional
ecotourism enterprises on the foundations of restricted and alternatives denied, the poor
the existing tourism industry in Komodo majority of park residents may eventually
(PKA and TNC 2000a:68) further suggest have to resettle to neighbouring islands to
that revenue will continue to be generated sustain their livelihoods. This would provide
outside the local economy by the state, the for the nature ideal that led traditional
private sector, foreign investors and the conservation practice, emphasising the
national – and local – elite (see Walpole and preservation of pristine nature for protection,
Goodwin 2000). recreation and scientific purposes.
TNC together with a Jakarta-based tourism Conclusion
operator propose a 25-year concession for The adoption of an ecotourism approach to
tourism development that also has far- conservation provides conservationists with
reaching park management implications. a politically and philosophically attractive
While no guidelines are provided that outline means to limit other forms of resource use,
how local communities would become more as by subscribing to the ecotourism
involved in management and benefit discourse, they find a means to get ‘off the
sharing, propositions to date suggest that hook’ in the sustainable use discourse (see
the concession would enable TNC to Campbell 2000:179). With other forms of
institutionalise its already dominant position resource use restricted, an increased
in the decision-making process of park involvement in ecotourism is proposed as
management (see Dhume 2002). The the most sustainable alternative for local
proposed concession is part of a project communities. However, when tourism fails to
funded, among others, by the Global provide suitable alternatives, resource use
Environmental Facility (GEF). The GEF restrictions have a considerable impact on
provides the funds to improve the tourism local livelihoods. This dilemma is quite
infrastructure of KNP to justify considerable evident in KNP, where tourism is set to be
increases in entrance fees, and to attract owned and operated by outsiders, instead of
high-end tourists. To generate sufficient significantly involving the local population.
revenue in order to reach financial self- By restricting extractive resource use,
sufficiency for the Park, the project communities who are dependent on
envisages the development of ‘larger scale resources for their survival are severely
ecotourism activities’ (GEF 2000:2) and ‘an hampered in their attempts to sustain a
expanded speciality dive market, possibly livelihood and may be left with no other
with a shift towards semi-mass tourism’ option but resettlement. Thus, the theoretical
(Environment North and Associated propositions of ecotourism may have little
Consultants 2001:106). Considering the resemblance to the practical implications of
potential ecological impacts of nature-based tourism development in and around
tourism, such a liberal approach to tourism protected areas, which are determined by
development undermines the integrity of the the interest of powerful external
management decision to prohibit meting per stakeholders. Instead, the adoption of an
se and suggests that in the conception of ecotourism discourse can be more
sustainability, double standards have been conducive to furthering exclusionary
employed in accordance with the interests of approaches to protected area conservation.
the most powerful stakeholders, the
conservation and the business community.
The way tourism development is envisaged 1
The theme of this paper is discussed in
in the future suggests that it will remain
more detail in the MA dissertation, Jurassic
determined by top-down planning and
Wilderness: Ecotourism as a Conservation
external ownership and operation.
Strategy in Komodo National Park,
Subsequently, low levels of local
Indonesia (2002). I would like to thank
participation and economic benefits continue
NZAID for supporting the field research
to undermine the perceived potential of
component of this project.
ecotourism as a tool for sustainable
community development and local
empowerment. Instead, with resource use
Funds (PDF). Block B Grant.
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