Changing Lives

Raja Ampat is changing, but what happens next is up to us.

SUpport local communities

Change through Development

Whilst at a glance Raja Ampat appears a tropical paradise where a lucrative tourism market exists, an imbalance is present; as the industry thrives, the local villages remain undeveloped with limited infrastructure for basic services such as running water, power supply, education, healthcare and livelihood opportunities.

Ten to fifteen years ago, tourism development was seen as the solution to a number of socio-economic and environmental issues; it provided a seemingly sustainable source of development, informal regulation of extractive or destructive behaviours, and in some cases greater opportunity for alternative and improved livelihoods. In many instances past and present, this is indeed the case. Tourism operators offer more opportunities for employment, skills based training, and ultimately better salaries – all of which were previously unattainable to many members of the local community. In the more heavily touristed areas such as The Dampier Strait, tourism and associated development also brought with it better access to transport and logistics between the islands and region hubs (Sorong, Waisai), which in turn increases access to the services found in these locations.

The development of a tourism industry has also served as a profitable, and in some instances, mutually beneficial platform for conservation and community work in the region, with some operators and tourists establishing and/or supporting local projects and NGOs.

But whilst this is the case, a tourism industry in a developing region is a double edged sword, and it is important that all impacts are considered in both existing, and future development of the region. A tourism industry brings with it ecological impacts (see Reefs at Risk CHECK LINK!), along with socio-cultural impact, something which should not be overlooked. The advent of tourism in Raja Ampat has brought with it change to the daily lives of many local people. And whilst much of the focus from conservation efforts in the region is upon the marine environment, this sudden and rapid development brings potential risk to long-standing cultures and value systems of local communities. Culturally sensitive sustainable tourism planning is necessary at all levels to avoid unnecessary cultural erosion or dilution, and potential cultural clashes.

As with any population of humans, culture and traditions change over time; where the standards and norms of today may not apply in the future. However, in the instance of Raja Ampat, any cultural evolution, slow or rapid, must be lead first by local people, with the support, acute awareness and sensitivity of the new industry. The below outlines some of the issues that must be considered, as the absence of such consideration could leave the long standing communities and traditions of Raja Ampat’s people radically altered, or lost forever.

Socio Cultural Change

Cultural dilution: when cultures are blended and the process of our lives becomes similar, at the expense of one or more of the cultures involved. 

The socio-cultural impacts of tourism and development in undeveloped regions are wide and varied, and often result in the host community becoming the weaker party, whose way of being can become altered dramatically.  At its best, tourism will support and uphold local culture and tradition, and model their operations in a mutually beneficial manner around this.  At its worst, a tourism industry can change local value systems and behaviour, threatening local identity and long held cultural beliefs. In this instance, the impact and influence reaches deeply into the heart of communities bringing about change in community structure, family relationships, traditional lifestyles, ceremonies and cultural morality.

Raja Ampat is as diverse culturally, as it is ecologically. A series of 1411 unique islands both large and small it is a melting pot of people from all over Indonesia, previously isolated from one another, yet for many years now existing together across the region in a mix of ancient traditions and local cultures.  Rapid or mass development can lead to changes to, or loss of, local identity and values of local communities via the following influences:

Conservation Raja Ampat Tourism Overtourism


Tourism in Raja Ampat sees people from all over the world including wider Indonesia, entering a region that was, until the approximately 2010s, largely disconnected from a global community. This rapid introduction to the outside world has resulted in interactions and social relations between very different people and cultures, leaving opportunity for misunderstandings or even clashes. With this in mind, it is important for individual tourists, and the industry as a whole to understand that their presence has influence…

Too many divers Manta Ridge cleaning station Raja Ampat.


Increasing tourism can have a physical influence on a destination, which can cause social stress when it impacts the local community.

Too many divers Manta Ridge cleaning station Raja Ampat.


Whilst many tourists visit remote destinations to ‘get away from it all’, desiring a landscape, culture, accommodation, food and drinks that are new and unfamiliar, at the same time these experiences must not be SO new and unfamiliar that the tourist becomes uncomfortable. This can result in the dilution or removal of more traditional ways in favour of what is more familiar to the tourist, for example imported food (beef, cheese), other examples? .

Too many divers Manta Ridge cleaning station Raja Ampat.


Whilst many tourists visit remote destinations to ‘get away from it all’, desiring a landscape, culture, accommodation, food and drinks that are new and unfamiliar, at the same time these experiences must not be SO new and unfamiliar that the tourist becomes uncomfortable. This can result in the dilution or removal of more traditional ways in favour of what is more familiar to the tourist, for example imported food (beef, cheese), other examples? .

Too many divers Manta Ridge cleaning station Raja Ampat.


For a multitude of complex reasons (cultural, political, economic and geographical), local community members in Raja Ampat have more limited access to higher levels of education, professional training and work experience. Subsequently higher skilled and more prestigious managerial/technical positions go to more urbanised nationals or foreigners, leaving limited choice and access to livelihood opportunities outside traditional subsistence living, with those opportunities that remain being lower skilled and lower paid, and typically extractive, and based in the exploitation of coral reefs and the marine environment.

Too many divers Manta Ridge cleaning station Raja Ampat.


As is the case in any modernizing population, as the use of technology increases and in some ways improves lives, traditional knowledge becomes diluted or forgotten.

Yaf Keru Reef Restoration Conservation The SEA People Orang Laut Papua. Coral Rubble Yenbekwan Raja Ampat


In a rapidly developing location, tourism activities can, and do, serve as a useful mechanism to preserve local culture and the artifacts it contains. However, it can also “Disney-fy” local culture and turn it into a commodity, whereby traditions, ceremonies and other local customs are displayed to meet tourist expectations in a form of reconstructed ethnicity.


The Other Side of ‘Paradise’

This might need another title!! Developing the Undeveloped.  Development in Remote Areas. Development – An Imbalance.

In West Papua, whilst poverty is (slowly) decreasing over time – despite being abundant in natural wealth and resources – 26.8%(1) of the population lives below the poverty line, with 71.2%(2)experiencing multi-dimensional poverty, where indicators include nutrition, child mortality, years of schooling, school attendance, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, quality housing, assets, cooking fuel.  In Raja Ampat, there is a stark contrast between the paradise portrayed in promotion, and the reality within local communities.  Whilst government subsidy and area specific tourism can result in financial wealth, multiple complexities result in funds not being  distributed evenly at individual, village, or regional level, nor are they allocated well towards reducing multi-dimensional poverty.

This results in a number of regional vulnerabilities that influence the natural environment. The following is a dot point summary of the vulnerabilities facing local communities and coral reefs/coastal ecosystems in Raja Ampat.

  • lack of access to quality education*. Indonesia ranked bottom 10 of 79 countries in all most recent PISA – 2019, with standards in West Papua Province amongst lowest in country.
  • remote location leading to lack of access to healthcare, and quality healthcare*(*with cultural beliefs and remote locations further limiting ability to access and optimise that which is available)
  • completion of high school education limited / limited access to higher education and/or jobs skills training.Leading to…
  • low literacy and numeracy levels
    limited employment opportunities and/or limited opportunity for skilled employment. Opportunities typically are limited to tourism, or fishing (subsistence, semi industrial, industrial, or illegal/unsustainable)
  • exploitation of cheap labor
    increased infectious diseases
    increased alcohol abuse
  • corruption
  • high birth rate (very large families still prevalent, teen/young pregnancies)
  • infant/child/maternal mortality higher than in more developed areas of Indonesia
  • racism (village, regional, and national level)
  • migration of the productive workforce OUT, migration of a higher skilled workforce IN
  • inequality
  • gender biases
  • loss of access to land (in some circumstances)
  • biodiversity loss
  • climate change
  • poor governance and unstable, fragmented political environment (maybe remove??)
  • limited experience and exposure to ‘outside world’
  • strong traditional beliefs that can either enhance or inhibit positive change

The following points contribute to the destruction and degradation of coral reefs (primarily) and other coastal ecosystems:

  • Rapid, unsustainable and poorly regulated development
  • Fishing (subsistence overfishing, semi-industrial or industrial, illegal and unsustainable)
  • Transmigration bringing with it illegal/unsustainable fishing or environmental practices
  • Coastal development, largely in the form of tourism development and associated population growth, leading to increased nutrient pollution, chemical pollution, coastal runoff, waste water runoff, plastic pollution, sewerage.
  • Physical degradation to coral reefs (trampling, kicking, boat strike, anchors)
  • Damage to coral reefs from (past) dynamite fishing and cyanide fishing
  • Localised (but expanding) “over-tourism”
  • Tourism industry development, are threatening the biodiversity and ecosystem services provided by coral reef ecosystems
  • Poor governance and unstable, fragmented political environment

(1) TEMPO.CO, Jakarta – The Papua Province Statistics Indonesia (BPS), September 2022
(2) Multidimensional Poverty: Identification of Deprivation Characteristics of Papua’s Population Poverty in 2020′.  Dedy Susanto, Titis Setya Wulandari – Badan Pusat Statistik Provinsi Papua, Indonesia, 31 Oct 2021.

Copyright © The SEA People 2016-2023.  This website is copright monitored and protected.

All rights reserved. Yayasan Orang Laut Papua is a registered NGO under the Ministry of Law and Human Rights Republic of Indonesia. Number AHU-0016408. Year 2019. The SEA People is a registered Charitable Association under the Gouvernement de la République in France (Numero Identification Siren 853074300) and serves as an administrative and fundrasing base for supporting the fieldwork of Yaysan Orang Laut Papua.    Privacy Policy    Terms & Conditions