The Jakarta Post
Komodo National Park is the only place in the world where people can see the endangered Komodo dragons in their natural habitat. (JP/Wienda Parwitasari)
Plans to close one of Indonesia's hottest tourist destinations, Komodo National Park, which encompasses a cluster of islands in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), continue to move forward, as the government is set to announce a decision on a year-long shutdown slated to begin on January 2020.
NTT Tourism Agency head Marius Ardu Jelamu explained that the closure, aimed at habitat restoration, would only apply to Komodo Island, which is the largest island in the park that is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
"We will close it temporarily in January 2020, but not entirely, only Komodo Island," Marius said recently, as quoted by kompas.com.
The national park, which is located in West Manggarai regency, comprises three larger islands, Komodo, Padar and Rinca, as well as 26 smaller ones that overall span 219,322 hectares, according to UNESCO.
Home to a population of about 5,700 giant lizards, its conservation is overseen by the Environment and Forestry Ministry. The national park is the only place in the world where people can see the endangered Komodo dragons in their natural habitat.
Marius said that both regional and central governments had been working on the restoration plans together, and a team of relevant stakeholders had been formed in order to make a joint assessment of the closure, with the results expected to be submitted to the ministry by July.
"So the responsibility lies with them [the environment ministry] in accordance with the law, but they are also listening to the NTT provincial administration and West Manggarai regency administration," Marius said.
As part of the assessment, the team will conduct studies to determine the direction of the park's management as an exclusive area, including the elimination of negative impacts from tourism, as well as preservation efforts.
According to recent ministry data, over 10,000 people visit Komodo National Park monthly, with 95 percent of them being foreigners, while only 130 people are assigned to manage and monitor the park.
New policies will seek to improve monitoring and control over visitors to the area, starting with the organization of boat arrivals and ticket sales for the park, with only one point of entry from Labuan Bajo Port.
The supervision and control of tourist activities, including Komodo-watching, snorkeling and diving, will also be improved.
The Association of Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies' (ASITA) NTT branch has expressed support for the government's plans to close the island, with the association claiming that it will benefit the park.
"Our hopes are of course the same as all other tourism actors, namely that in the future Komodo Island can better accommodate and serve tourists through overall better infrastructure, as well as of the Komodo dragons’ habitat, which should continue to be well-maintained," ASITA NTT head Abed Frans said, as quoted by kompas.com.
He added that the association would adapt its tourism packages to suit the changes with regard to Komodo Island being temporarily inaccessible, directing visitors to focus on surrounding destinations such as Pink Beach or taking visitors on a hike up to the famed hilltop spot on Padar Island for a view of the signature three bays.
Debate surrounding the Komodo National Park closure erupted last month, as NTT Governor Viktor Bungtilu Laiskodat announced that his administration would make the necessary arrangements for a year-long shutdown in order to improve the park's conditions.
The plan, however, was met with opposition from the local community and the wider public, which eventually led to Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya responding that she would summon representatives from the NTT administration, and warning that decisions regarding conservation areas were solely under the jurisdiction of the central government. (kes)
Paragraph two in this article has been revised.