Ede & Ravenscroft Award 2001-2002

Report by Chris Stubbs, Department of Geography

Ecotourism, Wakatobi Marine National Park,
SE Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Hoga Island

This summer I spent six weeks within the Wakatobi Marine National Park, South East Sulawesi, Indonesia. The trip was undertaken with Operation Wallacea, a UK based NGO, which is committed to protecting Indonesia’s wildlife and conserving the unique ecosystems that exist in the region.

As a consequence of Operation Wallaceas work, they have persuaded the Indonesian government to protect the whole of the Wakatobi Archipelago as a National Park. I stayed on Hoga island, a small tropical and previously uninhabited island within the National Park. The island acts as a marine research base for investigating the spectacular coral reefs, collecting data to educate people against destructive fishing methods such as cyanide and bomb fishing that is prominent over much of South East Asia and set up sustainable alternatives.

Ecotourism is such an alternative. Hoga acts as an ecotourism destination attracting predominantly undergraduates from America and UK universities with it’s pristine fringing reef systems with marine biodiversity providing spectacular diving for research in a tropical country. The area is also home to the Bajau Laut people of SE Asia, former nomadic sea gypsy who have only recently settled in stilted houses on the reef flats.

Visitors to Hoga are based in locally built houses, the houses are owned by local villagers on the neighbouring island of Kaledupa who are provided with a significant income from what is one of the poorest regions in all of Indonesia. My aim this summer was to evaluate ecotourism using Operation Wallacea as a case study. A vast amount of literature exists assessing the meanings of ecotourism and praising the concept but there is an absence of evaluation at site level.

Why Ecotourism?

Tourism is a rapidly growing industry with international arrivals reaching the billion mark; with East Asia being a major recipient. Ecotourism is believed to be the fastest growing tourism segment. Western tourists are nowadays increasingly seeking a  different type of experience, active packed and more culturally plus environmentally minded. With ecotourism having the potential to contribute to both conservation and development it is proving popular to both hosts and guests.

Indonesia is a ‘megabiodiversity’ country, holding nearly 20% of all earths known species. Unfortunately Indonesia also contains the most species threatened by extinction. In this light ecotourism is often considered to be a potential strategy to support conservation of natural ecosystems while at the same time promoting sustainable local development.

Tourism within Indonesia, like the economic development as a whole, is extremely unevenly distributed. The famous ‘Wallaces’ line that demarcates Asian and from Australasian flora and fauna now roughly separates the more densely populated and developed western Islands from the less inhabited, economically less developed eastern islands like Sulawesi.

Ecotourism based on the rich ecological resources of eastern Indonesia is viewed as a means of diversifying Indonesia’s tourism product, stimulating economic development in otherwise disadvantaged areas.

My time on Hoga

During my time on Hoga I spent treasured moments with the local people conducting interviews with the help of translators, to gain there views on tourism; it’s possible cultural impacts in a muslim country, the economic implications and environmental issues. Interviews were conducted on Hoga Island, neighbouring Kaledupa and the  remarkable Bajau village of Sampela. This community act as the main fishers in the vicinity, living a subsistence lifestyle from the seas, many still have animalistic beliefs and traditions. Although an extremely poor community they proved the happiest and friendly people you could meet, touring through the stilted village in dug out canoes was always an incredible and privileged experience.

The main threat to ecotourism in the area and to the local inhabitants existence is that reef areas will be overfished and biodiversity and quality of diving will decline. To manage this a stakeholder zone is proposed, a 40km2 zone designated to the people of Kaledupa and Sampela to manage. This is a community led approach to resource management aimed at conserving the reef system and creating positive links with tourism and local communities to maintain biodiversity.

As a consultative process I attending meetings in remote villages within the proposed zone. The meetings involved laptop images from Operation Wallacea, it was an incredible experience to be crammed into a stilted hut, of the village head, with almost the entire village getting there first view of a screen with underwater images with computer technology. But equally strange at the end of a successful meeting to shake the stumped arm, a consequence of bomb fishing, of the village head who was wearing a T-shirt plastered with the faces of Manchester United players.


Maps showing SE Sulawesi and the Wakatobi Marine National Park
Typically locally built Hoga Hut
Beach at Hoga Island
Baju People of Sampela
Hoga Sunset

Whilst I was there a stakeholder committee was formed, comprised of Park Authorities, local village representatives, local government representatives and a Operation Wallacea representative to manage the surrounding coastal areas. A small step in the right direction to creating positive synergistic relationships between  tourism, biodiversity and local community’s.

I had the most fantastic time whilst in Indonesia and was fortunate to dive on the stunning reef systems teeming with life and stunning colour, avoiding deadly poisonous sea snakes and swarms of thousands of Man of War Jellyfish. The local people were what really made it though. With local football matches played between Hoga and Kaledupa and evening beach volleyball matches with the island boatboys. They have so little yet are the most friendly and happy people. It makes you wonder whether we are overdeveloped rather than labelling them as underdeveloped.

I’d like to finally thank the panel for giving me the financial boost to make this trip possible, an experience that has left me with memories for a lifetime.

Secretary to Prizes Committee
October 2002
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