IMPACT AND INFLUENCE
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.
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.
COMMUNITY VULNERABILITIES (SOCIAL & ECOLOGICAL)
- 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
- 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
- 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.
With this in mind, it is extremely important for individual tourists, and the industry as a whole to understand that their presence has influence, and that in order to obtain an authentic cultural experience whilst visiting Raja Ampat without causing disturbance or offence, it is essential to acknowledge the existing local culture, and do everything possible to integrate and be respectful.
A simple method of doing this is to mimic the behavior of local community members, particularly when in a local community context, ie: observe how they dress and interact, and do the same. For example; in Raja Ampat you would not see women walking around communities in revealing swimsuits, short shorts or mid-rif tops, indicating this is culturally incorrect at this time. Alternatively, by offering to share tea, coffee or a meal with locals, you can show a greater respect for local culture and subsequently will have a far more enriching and authentic experience.
Unfortunately, much of the industry buffers tourists from the reality of community life in Raja Ampat, and as such there are tourists who are unaware, make little effort to understand cultural norms and unwittingly breach them, or worse blatantly ignore them, causing offence to older community members, and serving as poor examples that support or enable culturally inappropriate/unacceptable behaviours and ideals to younger community members. Examples include; open and/or liberal use of alcohol, loud activities on religious or ceremonial days, or particular interactions between males/females that are unfamiliar or culturally unacceptable.
It’s important for us all to remember; when tourists visit our own home countries we expect them to behave in a way that suits our culture and causes no offense. Therefore, it is the same when we are tourists; it is our responsibility, and that of our chosen operator to be culturally aware of the communities in which we are entering, and pay full respect to the ways of the local people an customs at all times.
In Raja Ampat, the service based need for more modern, bigger and faster boats means greater efficiency and better access to services, yet it has lead to fewer people having the skills to carve a traditional canoe or use tides and currents to optimize fuel costs. In more developed areas, fewer local community members still retain the ability to navigate using stars and the moon, and choose sonar based ‘fish finders’ as opposed to local knowledge, thus altering long held fishing practices.
Most noticeably, with each passing generation the use of local Papuan languages becomes reduced; Raja Ampat is home to 15 known local languages and dialects, yet many of younger generations speak primarily Bahasa Indonesia and perhaps some English, with limited knowledge of local languages. Additionally, the long held tradition of ‘sasi’, a successful traditional management method that permits, forbids or restricts certain activities (which can be applied to natural resource extraction such as fishing of certain species, or within certain areas OR community behaviour such as drinking alcohol) is losing strength, in particular in the more touristic areas.
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.
Saving Coral Reefs Starts with You.
If left unchecked, 90% of coral reefs will be threatened by 2030, with almost all reefs facing, high, very high, or critical threat levels by 2050.
If we don’t act now, future generations will not have the privilege of seeing coral reefs, let alone receive the benefits that coral reefs provide, including food, coastal protection, livelihoods and medicine.
In Raja Ampat, Indonesia, the most biodiverse coral reefs on Earth are under threat; rapid and unsustainable development combined with climate change threaten the future of these reefs, along with the food security, heritage and livelihoods of many.
Your contribution today has a direct impact in enabling our team to work with local people to Restore, Protect and Conserve reefs in the world’s last remaining coral stronghold.
We cannot do it alone, but with your contribution we can do it together.