Sunday, September 25, 2022

Development and Conservation Struggle in Komodo National Park | AP News

JAKARTA, Indonesia ( Associated Press) – On a dirt trail, with a yellow tongue sticking out of its mouth, a member of the world’s largest lizard species photographs tourists on an island in eastern Indonesia’s Komodo National Park. And about 18 miles (30 kilometers) away on another park island that harbors Komodo dragons, trees have been removed and concrete has been poured for new tourist facilities, sparking anger from residents and environmental activists. .

The construction is part of an ambitious Indonesian initiative that has sparked tensions between a government that wants to develop natural attractions for luxury tourism and conservationists who fear the endangered Komodo dragon’s habitat will cause irreparable harm. United Nations officials have also expressed concern about the potential tourism impacts on this unique wildlife-rich park.

Encompassing approximately 850 square miles (2,200 square kilometers) of land and marine territory, Komodo National Park was established in 1980 to help protect the famous dragons. Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry estimates that about 3,000 reptiles live there today, as well as manatees such as dugongs, sea turtles, whales, and more than a thousand species of tropical fish.

Due to its biodiversity and beauty, the park became a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site in 1991. And it is one of Indonesia’s crown jewels for tourism, usually attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world each year.

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For years the government has been trying to figure out how to best capitalize on the park, recently naming it part of the country’s “10 New Balis” initiative – an effort to attract more tourists, as Bali The island did before border restrictions. COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are ushering in a new era of tourism in Indonesia based on nature and culture, focusing on sustainability and quality tourism,” Indonesian Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Uno told The Associated Press.

Part of that multi-million dollar tourism development is a project on Rinca Island, where more than a third of the park’s dragons are estimated to live in a generally hot and dry area. Construction included an extended ranger station, viewing platform, boat dock, toilets and other infrastructure.

The project concerns local environmental activists and residents within the park’s boundaries who say their livelihoods as tour guides, boat drivers and souvenir sellers depend on the attraction of the area’s natural beauty.

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“When we talk about development in a conservation area, we have to think… is it a wisely considered economic impact for local people – or an environmental impact,” said Gregorius Afioma, a member of the local non-government he said. Organization Sun Spirit for Justice and Peace. “Now the situation is like mass suicide.

“We think this kind of business will eventually kill others’ businesses and even our own because they have destroyed the environment,” said Afyoma, adding that local residents also fear that the Indonesian government will kill them. They will not get construction work for promoting luxury tourism destination. ,

UNESCO – the United Nations body that grants World Heritage Site status – has also raised concerns about development in the park.

“The State Party did not inform us as to the operational guidelines,” said Guy DeBonet, head of the body’s Natural Heritage Unit. “This is certainly a matter of concern, as we feel that the impacts on universal value (of the park) have not been properly assessed.”

During a meeting in July, UNESCO expressed other concerns, such as the project’s reduction of the park’s wilderness area to one-third of the previous area, a lack of adequate environmental impact assessment, in addition to tourism concessions within the property, and dramatically Increase in target visitors.

A report from the meeting said, “third party information transmitted to the State Party indicates that a target of 500,000 annual visitors to the property has been proposed, which is twice the pre-COVID-19 pandemic visitor numbers.” More than.”, “It raises the question of how this tourism model fits (Indonesia’s) vision of moving away from mass tourism to more sustainable approaches.”

At UNESCO’s request, the country submitted more details about the project. But after reviewing this, the United Nations agency requested in October 2020 that any tourism infrastructure project affecting the Outstanding Universal Value of the property “before a review of the relevant environmental impact assessment” by the International Union for Conservation of Indonesia. Do not move along” Nature.

The IUCN is an international, non-governmental organization that provides the UNESCO World Heritage Committee with technical assessment of natural heritage properties.

After several attempts to obtain permission from government officials, the Associated Press was unable to gain access to the construction site, which has been closed to the public for months. But satellite imagery shows that construction continued despite UNESCO’s request to halt the project. The government did not respond to an email seeking comment last week.

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Debonnet, the head of the World Heritage Unit, said that as of 6 December, UNESCO still has not received the requested revised assessment.

The Indonesian government also granted at least two business permits to Komodo National Park, which includes projects on the Rinca, Komodo and Padar islands, according to an email to the Associated Press from director Shana Fatina, chairman of the Labuan Bajo Flores Tourism Authority, who helped coordinate does. government tourism efforts

Some experts fear that the expansion of tourism to the park may disturb the habitat of the Komodo dragon.

Predatory lizards, which can reach 10 feet (3 m) in length and over 300 pounds (135 kg), were recently moved from “vulnerable” to “endangered” status on the IUCN’s list of threatened species. went. The organization cited the effects of climate change and the deterioration of the dragon’s habitat – including human encroachment – ​​as the reasons for the change.

Unless carefully managed, tourism projects “could have a huge impact, not only by the number of people who disturb the behavior of dragons and their prey, but also on how much freshwater is snatched away.” going,” said Brian Fry, an associate professor. School of Biological Sciences at the University of Queensland in Australia. “It can dramatically affect the very delicate balance of these islands.”

The opening date for the new Rinca Island facilities has yet to be announced. UNESCO’s Debonnet said it is in talks with Indonesian authorities to arrange a monitoring mission to assess the impact of ongoing development on the park and review its conservation status.

And while World Heritage sites are usually discussed by a UNESCO committee on a two-year cycle, Komodo National Park will be discussed in 2022, Debonnet said. “It’s kind of a sign that we see that there is some urgency in this issue,” he said.

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Follow Victoria Milko on Twitter: @thevmilko

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The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.

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