By Dian Hasan | October 12, 2009
The Komodo National Park, one of seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Indonesia, and its famous occupant – the endangered Komodo Dragon (Varanus Komodensis), is indeed an asset for all of mankind. As the only site in the world, with the giant monitor lizard that most closely resemble walking dinosaur still roaming the earth, their existence and well-being are all the more intriguing to protect. Here’s a look at how Indonesian-based PT. Putri Naga Komodo (PNK) with assistance from VIDA (Volunteering for International Development from Australia) and US-based TNC (The Nature Conservancy) are implementing a strategic plan to ensure Komodos’ sustainability today and – more importantly – tomorrow, so the Komodos will still be around for our great grandchildren to see. And a specific insight into how one VIDA volunteer, Jo Newham is making a difference in the community.
Working towards a sustainable future for the communities within and around Komodo National Park.
For the past twelve months, Jo Newham has been working as a VIDA volunteer for not-for-profit company PT Putri Naga Komodo (PNK) the Komodo Dragon Princess which is working with its collaborative management partners to manage the UNESCO World Heritage Site Komodo National Park (the Park) in Eastern Indonesia. Most well-known as home to the legendary Komodo dragon, the Park covers 1,817 squared kilometres and is one of the world’s most diverse and rich marine environments containing more than 1,000 species of fish, 260 species of reef building corals and 70 species of sponge as well as dolphins, whales, large manta rays and turtles. The traditional fishing communities living inside the Park, numbering more than 3,500, are almost wholly dependent upon local marine systems for survival. However, destructive fishing practices (which have certainly decreased markedly yet are almost impossible to stop completely), rapidly growing island populations and expanding commercial fishing companies are threatening these vital resources.
PNK is a joint venture established in 2005 as a sustainable management support unit by the global conservation organisation The Nature Conservancy (TNC) which has been involved in supporting Park management for more than a decade. Working closely with all key stakeholders groups, including the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry (PHKA), the Komodo National Park Authority (BTNK), the West Manggarai Regency, local communities and the tourism sector, PNK is charged with implementing an innovative and multi-disciplinary approach to achieve long-term financial sustainability of the Park through professional park management, sustainable ecotourism development, destination marketing, and coordination of activities related to community development and the conservation of the Park’s unique marine and terrestrial biodiversity assets.
Jo has been working with the community development team and their activities which focus upon providing resource users with incentives for giving up access to certain resources within the protected areas of the Park, specifically the terrestrial and marine ‘no-take’ zones. PNK and its partners have recognised that by adopting a nature-based tourism framework that the important objective of conservation can be met. Tourism in general and nature-based tourism specifically, is among one of the fastest growing industries in the area. During 2007, more than 17,000 visitors experienced the Park and these numbers continue to increase.
While many islander residents, mainly from Komodo village, have long made an income producing and selling souvenirs to visitors, PNK’s integrated approach to tourism development is aiming to create new sustainable job opportunities in this and other related sectors. At the same time, increased economic benefits from an intact ecological system will help to increase community support for conservation and more tourism revenues will mean more available funds to protect the Park and support community development.
A number of sustainable enterprises are already operating in the Park, supported by PNK through micro-financing. Funding proposals from the communities are selected on their potential to generate economic returns and contribute to the conservation of the Park and are generally small-scale, village based economic activities.
PNK has also initiated a range of projects aimed at promoting alternatives livelihoods to destructive fishing practices which include an upcoming village based mariculture project, a variety of textile and handicraft production and naturalist guide training. It is this collaborative alternative livelihood project that Jo has worked closely with the PNK tourism team and the staff and local community members based at the tourism entrance site of Loh Liang on Komodo Island. PNK has trained a small number of Komodo island villagers as naturalist tour guides, teaching them such skills as English language proficiency, local history, climate and regional specific ecology and cultural awareness.
“Working on Komodo Island has been an incredible experience; it truly is a unique location”. However, it is the enthusiasm and passion of the local guides that has really made the most impact upon Jo. “The guides have consistently shown a very strong desire to learn and to improve their lives, they often came to work during their holidays to study English grammar – making sure they didn’t miss a thing”.
The main guides Jo and her co-workers trained live in Komodo village which is a 45 minute walk from Loh Liang. Like the majority of the older villagers, the guides in general have an elementary level schooling (usually five to six years) and have work experience in fishing or souvenir selling only. Most of the guides had worked as souvenir sellers at Loh Liang for around eight to ten years before joining PNK’s team, travelling early every morning armed with variously sized wooden carved Komodo dragons, jewellery, sarongs and other assortments often originating from other parts of Indonesia. The guides commented that as a souvenir seller they did have the opportunity of making quite a substantial amount of money, however, it was never guaranteed and during the low season it was very difficult to make any profit at all. Working with PNK, they say they actually make less money yet, it is a guaranteed and regular amount, plus they are also entitled to any tips they may receive.
Unanimously, the guides confided that their early days working as a souvenir seller were really quite fun and profitable as they worked alongside their mates and were able to interact with tourists from overseas. They enjoyed buying materialistic, fashionable items they had seen on television and movies and one guide was able to experience life in Bali too. However, as they became young husbands and then fathers, the job became stressful. Naturalist guide Herman, 28 years, remembers his feelings from that time of his life, “always I was worried, everyday. What is happening for my future? I wanted to change my life”. Fellow guide Usman, 33 years, agrees and lists the opportunity to learn English, gaining self-reliance and having a regular income as the reasons why he enjoys life working as a local naturalist guide. As a proud father, Herman says he tries to teach his two small children a little bit of English language each day and wants them to have a better life than him. “Their education will be better than mine. I’m working for them…that’s my dream”.
The guides say they feel confident and proud to be working with PNK and say that their community members often “say they want to be like us”. They want more job opportunities and have begun to understand the importance of conservation within their Park. Recently, two more young men from Komodo village have commenced their training to become naturalist guides after approaching the current guides and being recommended by PNK’s community outreach staff as well. “The new guides have very little knowledge of the Park and its natural resources at this stage yet they are very quick to learn and have already shown their dedication and determination to succeed” says Jo.
There is still a long way to go, however, and PNK and the management team recognise that this special place is best served by those who live and work and have interests in the Park. By working with and for local communities, the PNK team can aim to continue to further develop their community development and nature-based tourism activities in an effort to provide and support a sustainable future for the communities within and around the Park.