Antara & Nur Yasmin, Jakarta – The Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs has decided not to close Komodo Island in East Nusa Tenggara – the home of the rare Komodo dragons – but instead will restrict the number of tourists visiting the island, seeking to strike a balance between conservation and raking in tourist dollars.
The island attracts 170,000 tourists annually, prompting locals to worry about the sustainability of the island's environment.
"Komodo Island will not be closed; the central and regional government, and other related parties, will manage tourism on the island, issuing a limited number of tickets for tourists each year," Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said on Tuesday.
The decision was taken after Luhut met Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya, Tourism Minister Arief Yahya and East Nusa Tenggara governor Viktor Laiskodat in Jakarta on Monday.
Luhut said tourists wanting to visit the Komodo Island and other islands around it will have to apply for a premium membership card that will be valid for one year.
Without the card, you can only visit smaller islands inhabited by the Komodo dragons.
"Non-premium tourists will be directed to smaller islands such as Rinca. They will not be able to visit Komodo," Luhut said.
The government will also manage cruise tours around the island, including the routes, logistics and waste management.
"We need to build International-standard facilities for nature tourism and better-equipped supporting facilities outside Komodo Island," the ministry's infrastructure deputy Ridwan Djamaluddin said.
He also said the government has plans to build a Komodo Research Center on the island.
Previously, the East Nusa Tenggara provincial administration had announced a plan to close the Komodo Island from tourists for at least a year from Jan. 1, 2020, in order to protect the endangered dragons.
It also intended to relocate over 1,800 residents of the island to protect the Komodo population.
The residents objected to the plan since they rely on tourism to earn an income. They were also suspicious that the government might have an ulterior motive.
"They want to evict us from the island; conservation is just a cover. They are likely to have business interests on the island," Akbar M., the head of the Komodo Village Youth Group, said on Monday.