Jayanty Nada Shofa, Jakarta – A recent study revealed that the implementation of a visitor cap could greatly reduce the loss of ecosystem service value at the Komodo National Park in East Nusa Tenggara, which is home to the world's largest extant lizard species, the Komodo dragon.
Every year, the Komodo National Park attracts at least thousands of tourists looking to catch a glimpse of the giant lizard in its natural habitat.
The park encompasses three major islands – Komodo, Padar, and Rinca – and dozens of smaller islands. Although the Komodo National Park is one of Indonesia's top tourist destinations, a study highlighted the need to cap its visitor numbers.
An expert team recently announced its study findings on the ecosystem service-based capacity of Komodo Island, Padar Island, and the surrounding waters.
An ecosystem service refers to the many benefits provided by the ecosystems to the people such as oxygen, among others. Ecosystem valuation is the process of assigning value to those benefits.
The study recommended that the park should restrict the number of people visiting each year to keep the ecosystem service value loss in check.
According to Irman Firmansyah, the expert team head, the Komodo National Park will generate an ecosystem value of at least Rp 23 trillion (about $1.5 billion) in 2045.
But if we do not implement a visitor cap or let it top 292,000 visitors [a year], we could lose an ecosystem value of Rp 11.1 trillion," Irman told a press conference in Jakarta on Monday.
"A visitor cap will greatly lower this loss to just Rp 10.39 billion," he added.
The Komodo National Park's maximum capacity is 292,000 visitors a year, with the ideal annual cap being 219,000 visitors. The standard visitor cap is 146,000 people a year, according to the study.
Covid-19 has taken a toll on tourism. The Komodo National Park only attracted about 49,719 visitors in 2020. Without any capacity limit, the number of tourists visiting the park is forecast to jump to 283,686 in 2030, and 479,240 in 2045.
Under a tourist cap scenario, Irman predicted that about 267,599 people would be visiting the Komodo National Park in 2030. Visitor numbers would rise to 277,270 in 2045, the study showed.
The capacity limit will affect the socio-economic benefits provided by the park. "If we restrict the number of visitors, we can curb the [ecosystem value] decline while the [socio-economic] benefits remain high," Irman said.
The study found that if the park capped its visitor numbers, it could generate Rp 113.77 billion worth of socio-economic benefits from the tourist visits alone. The socio-economic benefits outside these visits can reach Rp 751.62 billion.
Without a capacity limit, the socio-economic benefits of the visits will be worth Rp 227.32 billion.
Irman also suggested that the park should implement a conservation cost of between Rp 2.9 million and Rp 5.8 million to compensate for each visit.
The government plans to impose a visitor cap at the Komodo National Park starting August 1 this year. The park will also require its visitors to make online reservations. The planned conservation cost is Rp 3.75 million for each person per year.
As of 2021, about 3,303 Komodo dragons inhabit the park. This marked an increase from 3,163 in the previous year, data showed.