August 12, 2005

Komodo Park: A future Jurassic tragedy

Henning Borchers, Jakarta

Komodo National Park is a great place...
TNC has largely restricted resource use without providing alternative livelihood
strategies fishermen so badly need to sus...
There is a need for transparent and independent review, monitoring and mediation
procedures to ensure sustainable manageme...
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Jurassic Tragedy


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Op-Piece in the Jakarta Post, Indonesia

Published in: Education, Travel, Technology
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Jurassic Tragedy

  1. 1. August 12, 2005 Komodo Park: A future Jurassic tragedy Henning Borchers, Jakarta Komodo National Park is a great place to see the famous Komodo dragon but conflict in the area between locals and conservators is risking the status of this World Heritage Site. Henning Borchers, a development anthropologist, writes how a new plan involving the locals is badly needed to avoid future conflict and guarantee sustainable management of the park. Komodo National Park is internationally famous for being the only place in the world where one can encounter the Komodo monitor in the wild. Its marine environment is also destined to become yet another first-class dive destination, alongside Sulawesi's Bunaken National Park. The sea surrounding the park's several islands offers some of the best dive spots in the country; it provides the diver with a glimpse of more than 250 species of reef-building corals, some 1,000 species of fish, manta rays, sea turtles and numerous marine mammals such as dolphins and whales. The terrestrial part of the park has more to offer than just dragons -- it is a naturalist's quot;Jurassic Parkquot; for sure; another world that seems to offer little to human habitation. But appearances can be deceptive. There are humans here too: traditional residents as well as migrants who have come to the park to try and eke out a living from the area's bountiful natural resources. But for them, living in the park is fast becoming a non-sustainable option. There are roughly 3,300 people living within park boundaries, spread over four settlements. Their main source of livelihood is the sea surrounding their islands. This has become a highly contested issue, and the situation in and around Komodo National Park can now be considered a worst-case scenario, where an international conservation agenda clashes with the livelihood needs and political rights of the local population. Since 1995, the National Park Authority has received substantial support from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), an American NGO. While the work of TNC, the world's richest environmental organization, has garnered praise from some quarters, its reputation has also been questioned due to its corporate links -- indeed, General Motors, Exxon Mobil, and Monsanto are unlikely partners for an organization that claims to be quot;saving the last great placesquot;. Conflict between park authorities and local fishing communities in and surrounding the park was already prevalent prior to TNC's engagement. However, since TNC's involvement, this conflict has been aggravated.
  2. 2. TNC has largely restricted resource use without providing alternative livelihood strategies fishermen so badly need to sustain a living without being shot dead as last happened in 2002. The incident, in which two fishermen were allegedly shot and killed by a park patrol when they were trying to catch lobster, caused violent protests, which saw a local national park branch torched down, and led to an investigation by Komnas HAM, the National Human Rights Commission. But it did not initiate a critical review of the project that had provided the circumstances for this incident to happen in the first place. Instead, TNC hails their Komodo project as an all-out success, and they were thus able to secure continued project funding, most recently a US$5 million grant from the International Finance Corporation, although their success rate after a 10-year commitment is largely limited to improvements in coral reef cover. This is certainly a worthwhile achievement and one, moreover, which attracts the tourists TNC so badly needs to make the park self-financing through tourism revenue. The Ministry of Forestry in July 2004 granted a tourism concession to a joint venture between TNC and a tourism company owned by Malaysian business magnate Feisol Hashim to manage the park for 25 years. The JV, P.T. Putri Naga Komodo, is set to take over this month, but local stakeholders, including local legislative council, have yet to be informed about its decision-making structure, which puts into question political rights granted to them through Indonesia's decentralization process. Feisol seems to be the perfect partner to invigorate the tourism industry by developing high-end marine tourism. He holds prominent positions in Indonesia's tourism industry and has bought around 200ha of coastal land surrounding the park over the past 10 years. According to TNC's Russell Leiman, Feisol's engagement is on a purely philanthropic basis, but with the JV to go ahead, one can expect large-scale infrastructure development and a considerable future profit for Feisol. What is not clear, however, is how local communities, who still rely on the area to survive, will benefit from the project. According to TNC, fishermen from further a-field exercise most pressure on resources, but population pressure within the park also needs to be addressed. TNC thus promotes incentives for park residents to resettle outside the park, by denying particularly poor locals a livelihood through restrictions on resource use. In Komodo National Park, the old-school conservation paradigm of quot;parks without peoplequot; receives a new polish. The reality for park residents in Komodo is as bleak as the dragon is fierce. There have been few attempts by TNC to involve local communities in conservation efforts. Fishermen are considered a threat to resources rather than an asset to conservation and park management. Ultimately, TNC is spending a considerable amount of money on quot;holding the fortquot;.
  3. 3. There is a need for transparent and independent review, monitoring and mediation procedures to ensure sustainable management of the park. Local stakeholders have to be involved in decisions pertaining to park management, conservation and economic development, ascertaining their right to prior, free and informed consent. They have the right and capacity to make their own decisions about their livelihoods. If TNCs top-down approach is allowed to continue, conflict will prevail and tourists visiting the park would better stay under water, where the fish won't bother them. For the communities within and surrounding the park, the last word has not yet been spoken. The writer is a New Zealand-based development anthropologist and independent researcher who published several papers on Komodo National Park.