A Re­sort to Pro­tect Bio­di­ver­sity in In­done­sia

Indonesia Expat - - NEWS - By David Kin­caid

When An­drew Miner dis­cov­ered Bat­bitim Is­land in

2003, he found a re­mote shark finning camp in a vast sea dev­as­tated by dy­na­mite and cyanide fish­ing. Where once the blood of sharks flowed, now stands the Misool Eco Re­sort: a dis­crete get­away wo­ven with re­claimed trop­i­cal hard­woods nes­tled on the shore of a la­goon now teem­ing with life.

But that’s just the half of it. Ac­cord­ing to Miner, the re­sort is a means to an end. For him, this pic­tureper­fect re­sort pays for his real pas­sion: fund­ing the 1,220- square- kilo­me­tre ma­rine con­ser­va­tion site that con­tains some of the rich­est bio­di­ver­sity on the planet.

As In­done­sia strug­gles to woo more tourists away from hotspots like Bali, it’s out- of-the- way gems like Bat­bitim Is­land that will stand out. But the per­sis­tent use of blast fish­ing and the Jokowi ad­min­is­tra­tion’s drive to in­crease tourism poses se­vere risks to the frag­ile ecosys­tems of Raja Am­pat’s coral reefs. Miner is hop­ing his re­sort may serve as a model for chan­nelling tourism in ways that pre­serve lo­cal liveli­hoods and the en­vi­ron­ment.

“It’s not just about in­vest­ing in the busi­ness but also about in­vest­ing in the com­mu­nity,” said Miner in an in­ter­view with In­done­sia Ex­pat, his eyes sparkling when asked how he did it.

It wasn’t easy. Old tra­di­tions were quickly fading. In the past, a nearby pearl farm em­ployed lo­cals who could sim­ply buy fish they needed. Far from po­lice or any regulation, those who made a liv­ing from the sea weren’t above de­stroy­ing habi­tats while they did it. Dis­pos­able in­come bought dis­pos­able goods. Soon plas­tic bags and used sham­poo sa­chets were washed into the sea.

Miner had to earn the sup­port of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and Raja Am­pat’s au­thor­i­ties. He did that by ap­peal­ing to tra­di­tional fish­ery man­age­ment called sasi – a lo­cal prac­tice that bans ma­rine har­vest­ing ac­cord­ing to the life cy­cle of sev­eral na­tive mol­lusks and fish. By pro­hibit­ing fish­ing dur­ing key de­vel­op­men­tal pe­ri­ods, lo­cal vil­lagers are as­sured of an abun­dant sup­ply of fish year af­ter year.

Miner ap­proached vil­lage chiefs and other of­fi­cials to pro­pose an eco re­sort that would em­ploy lo­cal vil­lagers, sup­port waste man­age­ment in the wa­ters of Misool and em­power those com­mu­ni­ties to en­force the sasi prac­tice.

“The district head, the Ca­mat. He was fan­tas­tic, and he got it straight away. Job op­por­tu­ni­ties, eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties,” says Miner. “We had all sorts of open dis­cus­sions.”

Vil­lage lead­ers were sold be­cause it re­vived lo­cal tra­di­tions. The pearl farm owner was on board be­cause cleaner wa­ter meant bet­ter qual­ity pearls. The re­sult? A ban on dy­na­mite and cyanide fish­ing and a pro­tected zone in a stretch of open wa­ter a lit­tle big­ger than Hong Kong.

To help the com­mu­ni­ties mon­i­tor the area, Miner es­tab­lished three base camps and em­ployed 15 per­ma­nent rangers. “We work both with the tra­di­tional lead­ers, the adat, and the ma­rine po­lice. It’s very much about rais­ing aware­ness,” Miner said, us­ing the catchall term mean­ing cus­toms.

The hard work paid off. Be­neath the sparkling turquoise wa­ters of the la­goon, colour­ful par­rot­fish, ju­ve­nile reef sharks and even the wob­bling bat­fish seem to thrive. Sev­eral ma­rine ex­perts in­volved in Miner’s project from early on be­lieve the vol­ume of ma­rine life in the con­ser­va­tion area has dou­bled in just eight years.

At the cen­tre of Miner’s ef­fort is the re­sort it­self. Each of the re­sort’s 17 vil­las is crafted from more than 600 tonnes of re­claimed trop­i­cal hard­woods found in the forests of the is­land or washed up on shore. Each ac­com­mo­da­tion is metic­u­lously de­signed with com­fort in mind, but also to give guests a stun­ning view and ac­cess to the la­goon and sur­round­ing reefs. The re­sort de­sali­nates sea­wa­ter for drink­ing, bathing and toi­lets for its max 40 guests and has a built-in cis­tern to col­lect rainwater for the more than 80 In­done­sian em­ploy­ees liv­ing at any one time in the staff vil­lage.

A small kitchen turns out an amaz­ing pa­rade of de­li­cious foods. Ev­ery meal has a veg­e­tar­ian op­tion that fo­cuses on health and keep­ing the guests wellen­er­gized for their daily sched­ule of ac­tiv­i­ties. Div­ing re­quires a gen­er­ous num­ber of calo­ries, and so Misool’s kitchen staff pre­pares four meals a day. But even in the kitchen there is at­ten­tion to stay­ing eco-friendly.

“We don’t serve any shell­fish,” says Sue, assistant man­ager at Misool. “The shells gen­er­ate more waste than our com­post­ing can han­dle.”

Left­over food waste and other or­gan­ics are com­posted. Sewage and wastew­a­ter are di­rected to one of the nearby gar­den con­tain­ers that serve as a beau­ti­fully dis­guised means of fil­tra­tion. Solids are trapped in the up­per por­tion of the planters, then a series of por­ous pipes chan­nel liq­uids through rocks and soil, fer­til­iz­ing planters brim­ming with palms, gin­ger and he­li­co­nia, un­til fresh wa­ter trick­les back into the sea.

And the sea is the main at­trac­tion. Each of the more than 25 dive sites of­fers guests a stag­ger­ing ar­ray of ma­rine life. Snorkel­ers and divers who start their visit in the re­sort’s house reef hap­pen upon red snap­pers, king- sized groupers and even the tiny Raja Am­pat sea­horse no big­ger than a grain of rice.

What Miner is do­ing in Raja Am­pat could pay not just en­vi­ron­men­tal div­i­dends but eco­nomic ones, too. Econ­o­mists say fish (es­pe­cially the big im­pres­sive ones) are worth more alive than dead. A gray shark can at­tract US$ 33,500 in tourist spend­ing each year. A reef manta: US$1 mil­lion. By con­trast, blast fish­ing robs the econ­omy of half a mil­lion dol­lars a day. Much of the coun­try’s reefs are al­ready de­stroyed, and the gov­ern­ment’s drive to dou­ble tourist vis­i­tors to 20 mil­lion a year by the end of the decade may make mat­ters worse.

To be sure, Misool Eco Re­sort may not be in every­one’s bud­get. A week of div­ing will set a cou­ple back $ 8,500, ex­clu­sive of air­fare. But that’s a rea­son­able enough price for a truly au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ence where the tourists, not na­ture, pay the price of the trip and where divers leave only their bub­bles.

Guests are treated to an ae­rial view of the la­goon on the short self- guided trail to the is­land’s south beach

A wastew­a­ter gar­den glows in the warm light of Misool’s board­walk and Wa­ter Cot­tages

Ta­ble for two by evening light at Misool’s la­goon ter­race restau­rant

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