The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


Alternative livelihoods for sustainable growth? – Ecotourism in Wakatobi National Park

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on May 27, 2014
A divemaster, and one of the very few fishermen on Tomia working in ecotourism, returns from bringing a client out on a dive.

A divemaster, and one of the very few fishermen on Tomia working in ecotourism, returns from bringing a client out on a dive.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) have gained enormous traction during the past few decades as a means to tackle concerning trends in overfishing and marine resource degradation in Indonesia. A common management strategy found in most of these MPAs is the development of alternative livelihoods that aim to wean resource users away from exploitative activities, the most important of which being fishing. Resource users are encouraged, by means of economic incentives, to shift their livelihood strategies towards more sustainable ones such as ecotourism or seaweed farming in the hopes of not only reducing fishing pressure on the local marine ecosystem, but to also promote sustainable growth within the region. However, the implementation of such alternative livelihood initiatives are not so straightforward when we consider how these projects almost always take place within dynamic and complex socio-ecological systems, each of which being unique with its own set of local specificities.

The objective of this research project is to study the principal factors that affect either the success or failure of alternative livelihood strategies within several Indonesian MPAs. The preliminary results from our fieldwork, which is currently being undertaken in several Indonesian MPAs, has already shed light on several key factors that highlight the difficulties in successfully developing alternative livelihoods within such highly complex socio-ecological spaces. For instance, in Wakatobi National Park (WNP), there is a strong push by the local government to increase the importance of ecotourism in the predominantly fishery based economies of local communities within the park. Although community members readily express their interest in the idea of ecotourism, very few are actually taking concrete steps to enter the industry. According to government and NGO officials, this lack of “willingness” is one of the main challenges facing ecotourism development in WNP. Efforts to counteract this are already being undertaken through workshops that aim to increase awareness about potential ecotourism benefits and to offer training for several tourism-related activities. However, as things stand, there is a severe lack of local capacity for ecotourism.

With fishing so tightly woven in the cultural identities of Wakatobi communities, fishermen are very hesitant to leave the one industry they have depended on their entire lives for another that has yet to show any real concrete benefits for the local community. This finding conforms with the work of other researchers that has criticized the common assumption amongst marine resource managers that fishermen are readily willing to give up fishing for another livelihood activity.

Despite the hindering factor outlined above, along with a few others such as poor transportation and local government corruption, the efforts WNP managers have made to establish an adaptive co-management style framework within the park is a positive step towards the long term goals of ecotourism development. By giving greater authority to local community groups in the management of ecotourism in their respective areas, the hope is that the future development of the industry will be able proceed even without outside assistance from NGOs and the government.

This blog post has been written by Gilles Maillet. Gilles is a GIS Specialist at Yarmouth Active Transportation, and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

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