Is Komodo Island closed or remain open for tourists?
As is generally known, the increase in admission tickets to Komodo to IDR 3,750,000 per person caused widespread rejection in our homeland, and in Labuan Bajo and Flores Island in particular.
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Wildlife viewing in Komodo National park is only available on 2 islands: Komodo Island and Rinca island. However, Rinca island is still closed for tourist activities due to some development going on.
Komodo Island closure plan since 2020
In 2019, the authorities in East Nusa Tenggara province announced that Komodo island would be closed for one year starting January 2020. Discussions took place to plan revitalizations of Komodo conservation and tourism, but the final decisions remained uncertain for months, which ensued protests from the public.
By the end of the year, it was decided that Komodo Island closure was not necessary. But, why and under what considerations was the decision made? If the reason for the closure was to protect Komodo dragons, is it okay that tourists keep coming now that the island remains open?
To understand the whole picture, let’s take a look at the reasons the local government considered closing Komodo island in the first place, as well as the opposing arguments why Komodo Island closure is not necessary.
Reasons the Local Government Considered Close Komodo Island
Komodo island is one of the most popular destinations in Indonesia. Over the past five years, tourism visits to Komodo National Park showed a significant increase. This certainly makes a positive impact on the local government and most residents who are involved and make a living in the tourism sector.
So, why did the administration of East Nusa Tenggara even consider closing Komodo island for a year? Wouldn’t it lead to a massive loss of revenue from the tourism sector?
- To Stop Visitors Interfering Komodo
Plans to limit the number of Komodo visitors have been under discussion for months. One of the considerations was to reduce the impact of increasing tourist visits to Komodo’s natural behavior.
The Association of the Indonesian Tours and Travel Agencies (ASITA) of East Nusa Tenggara was concerned that the increasing number of tourists was affecting the dragons’ mating habits, and feeding by tourists would make them docile. They were particularly concerned that Komodo became stressed, ill, and short-lived, or even turned aggressive and attacked tourists.
However, there was yet scientific evidence that tourist visits have such impacts on Komodo dragons. Meanwhile, thousands of local people are living on the same island, co-existing with Komodo dragons. In fact, the giant lizards and humans have been cohabiting for hundreds of years.
- To Restock Komodo Food Supply
There was concern that the number of Komodo dragons has decreased due to declining prey. The local administrator is also concerned that the giant lizards are declining in size due to changes in diet. According to them, the population of deer, which Komodo dragons eat, has significantly declined.
Still, considering closing Komodo island because of the declining deer population is arguably not relevant. After all, the main reason that the deer population decreased in number is not tourism, but illegal poaching. Besides, Komodo also eats other prey such as buffalos and wild boars.
- To Increase Komodo Population
Another reason that the local government considered Komodo Island closure was to increase the Komodo dragon. According to the local officials, not only did Komodo dragons decline in size but also in number in the past few years. Hence, during the one-year closure, they planned to embark on a conservation program aimed at increasing the population of the dragons and preserving their habitat.
The National Park Centre and Komodo Survival Progam (KSP), however, found that over the past five years, the Komodo population was in a relatively stable fluctuation, between 2,400-3,000. Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar added that the population of rare Komodo dragons was not under threat. Data showed the number of Komodo dragons from 2002 to 2019 is relatively stable.
That being said, the presence of tourists within the Komodo National Park is not seen as a threat to the Komodo dragon population.
- To Protect Komodo from Smugglers
While the notion of Komodo Island closure was first brought up by NTT Governor Viktor Laiskodat in November 2018, it was reiterated in early 2019 in response to the arrest of Komodo dragon smugglers. With seven smugglings from 2016-2019, police said, the suspects had stolen 41 Komodo dragons from the island. They took Komodo babies after killing their mother and sold each dragon for 500 million rupiahs (about $35,000).
Regarding this matter, some people argued that closing Komodo for tourists would not solve the problem. Instead, the issue would better be addressed by improving surveillance and security to prevent smuggling.
- To Build New Infrastructure
Another reason for Komodo Island’s closure for a year was to give time for the revitalization of the natural tourism in Komodo National Park and, at the same time, build new infrastructure. With a better environment for wildlife and new facilities for tourists, the government hopes to boost tourism and increase visitor numbers.
Unfortunately, the plan would include relocating thousands of local residents. This, among other factors, becomes the main cause that leads to the fight against Komodo Island closure.
The Fight Against Komodo Island Closure
Following the premature announcement from the NTT governor about Komodo Island’s closure for one year starting January 2020, many voiced their objections. While no final decision has been made, the local administrations sparked controversy by announcing the plan to raise park admission fees to $1000 through premium memberships. The governor further said that only high-end visitors are allowed to see the Komodo dragons.
The plan was indeed controversial among environmentalists and the tourism industry, as well as among residents who depend on tourism for their livelihood. Some feared being relocated to make way for new tourist infrastructure.
The protest is reasonable because residents living within the Komodo National Park had supported the conservation efforts and tourism development for years. They have long been involved in conservation-based tourism. Komodo Island closure will deprive them of their source of income, particularly because most residents have given up their lands to the Komodo National Park and switched professions to the tourism sector.
In response to the plan to ban visitors to Komodo Island for a year, locals voiced concerns that the Komodo Island closure would decimate their small businesses and undermine tourism to the region. In the West Manggarai regency, protesters objected to the plan to remove residents from the island, as proposed by the governor.
Although the one-year closure was canceled, the government announced that Komodo island will still undergo some improvements. A new Komodo dragon research center will be built, and other tourist spots are going to be revamped. The plan is to build a world-class infrastructure for nature tourism.
Where Else Can You See Komodo Dragons?
We would think that animals can survive in any location that provides sufficient food, the right weather, and shelter. By this logic, Komodo dragons should be able to live anywhere in the tropical area provided that they can feed and find shelter. However, Komodo dragons are only found in the eastern part of Indonesia. Why is that?
According to a study, it is not that Komodo dragons cannot inhabit other regions, but they choose not to. They are the true homebody—animals that don’t leave their native land all their life, even though they can travel miles away across difficult terrain.
So, what if Komodo island were closed to tourists? Does it mean we can no longer see Komodo dragons in the wild?
Thankfully, Komodo island is not the only place you can find Komodo dragons. In fact, Komodo island is part of the Komodo national park, which also includes several islands nearby.
The giant lizards are currently listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It is estimated there are about 5,700 Komodo dragons in the wild, with around 2,000 on Komodo island, and the rest on nearby islands.
Other than Komodo island, you will have a pretty high chance of spotting Komodo dragons on Rinca Island. Rinca is a 198-square-kilometer island and is home to around 1,000 dragons. It is easy to spot Komodo dragons here. However, the dragons are smaller.
Other than seeing Komodo dragons, you will also find amazing snorkeling spots and pristine beaches here. Besides, Rinca is closer to Labuan Bajo, where the airport and most accommodations are.
What’s New Labuan Bajo?
Komodo National Park is not just home to the fantastic Komodo dragons. Consisting of 29 islands, the national park offers natural adventure up the mountainous landscape and under the sea. The pristine water with rich marine life is perfect for swimming, scuba diving, and snorkeling.
However, the destination needs better management. While the number of visitors is soaring year by year, there is room for improvements in terms of cleanliness, hygiene, security, and comfort, especially for international visitors.
Thankfully, the government has made a master plan to develop integrated tourism in Komodo National Park and Labuan Bajo, the checkpoint to access the national park. On his presidential visit to Labuan Bajo on 21-22 January 2020, President Joko Widodo came to see the progress and made a commitment to oversee the process.
Future visitors can expect new facilities, better accommodations, and even improved attractions as many are currently under development.
- Labuan Bajo Airport Expansion
Those who have traveled to see Komodo dragons know that Komodo International Airport, despite its name, is not situated on Komodo island. The airport is located in Labuan Bajo City, on the island of Flores, as a departure point for tours to the Komodo National Park.
As the government is setting priorities for the development of Komodo National Park, Komodo Airport will soon undergo an expansion project with an estimated investment value of Rp1.2 trillion (US$85.82 million).
The airport is expected to accommodate up to 4 million passengers per year, with a 6,500 square meters domestic terminal and 5,538 square meters international terminal. The runway will be extended to 2,750 meters, which allows the airport to accommodate larger airplanes.
Regarding the airport expansion project, the President in his visit to Labuan Bajo, mentioned that the construction of runways and airport terminals is to start early this year.
- Better facilities and accommodations
Since Labuan Bajo is targeted at deep-pocketed tourists, the development of the area is adjusted to the target market. Cleanliness, comfort, and safety for tourists become priorities. Visitors can now expect better accommodations and facilities.
In fact, in his visit to Labuan Bajo, President Jokowi reviewed the development of premium tourism areas. He also reviewed preparations for the construction of the container port and officially opened the Inaya Hotel or Marina Bay Labuan Bajo, a luxury 5-star resort near Pede Beach.
- Involving the locals
As mandated by the President, the local community will be involved and be part of the integrated tourism development. The President suggests that the locals upgrade their expertise and competence to accommodate the needs of world-class tourism.
In addition, the President also intends to support local micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). A creative hub will work on local products, in terms of packaging, design, and price to better promote local products such as woven clothes, coffee, handicrafts, and cuisines. At the same time, cultural attractions and regional art will revive the area.
- Improved City Landscapes and Attractions
While Komodo National Park is the main priority, more attention is also poured to improve other attractions. During his visit to Labuan Bajo, the President mentioned 5 zones to develop in Labuan Bajo. They are Bukit Pramuka, Kampung Air, the container port and passenger dock, Marina Bay, and Ujung Kampung. These zones will become a new face that presents a beautiful city landscape.
A new container port will be built in the Waikelambu area, leaving the old port only for tourist’s vessels. The construction of ports and new destinations, including Puncak Waringin and the mirror cave, is targeted to be completed by the end of 2020. The city landscape will be adorned by vibrant flowers, like flamboyant and bougainvillea.
The master plan for the revitalization of the tourist area is designed to attract tourists. The face of the city will change significantly. New attractions will be developed. Upcoming visitors can expect a plaza, a city walk, and a public space for both locals and tourists.
The cancellation of the Komodo Island closure is a good thing after all. While revitalization projects are taking place, local residents continue to work together with the government welcoming visitors to see Komodo dragons in the wild. It’s a win-win solution.
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