Operating a dive resort that provides discerning travelers with a great diving holiday is our core business. At the same time, the issues of marine conservation and community development remain a key inspiration and driving force behind all our efforts.
Recognizing the need for sustainable marine resource protection within the Wakatobi region, the Collaborative Reef Conservation Program was developed by the founders of the Wakatobi Dive Resort in consultation with local leaders and village elders. The Collaborative Reef Conservation Program was designed to motivate the people living within the Wakatobi region to realize the intrinsic value of the reefs and to inspire the villages to take an active role in protecting the marine ecosystem. The program achieves this by providing an economic alternative to fishing and creates real incentives that help protect and manage the reefs. Cooperation between local fishermen and visiting divers is promoted by generating an income from tourism that is channeled directly back into the community.
It took many years of continuous and consistent efforts to build deep trust and understanding within the community to where all members of the surrounding villages respected and honored the agreement. Based on the success of a pilot project launched in 1998 that turned 6 km of reef into an effective no-fishing sanctuary, the Collaborative Reef Conservation Program was extended even further. Currently, the program includes all 17 communities around the resort and stretches over 20km (12.5 miles) of some of the finest reefs of the world, including the protection of dozens of top dive sites. Click here to see a satellite map of the sanctuary.
Competing Interests Requires Cooperation
Managing a large marine protected area with relatively few or no human inhabitants is simple compared to managing the needs and interests of a substantial local population, who are largely dependent on fishing for their livelihood. Wakatobi Dive Resort realized very quickly that the needs of the local population would have to be built into the equation to create a lasting and meaningful conservation program. This was a formidable challenge as the Wakatobi Islands have a population of almost 100,000 people.
A large number of local inhabitants can be seen as both a threat and an opportunity when considering the factors that create a successful marine conservation program. At Wakatobi, the conservation program has turned the equation around, empowering the people living within the Wakatobi region to become a powerful “guarding force” protecting their reefs. Equally important, the economics of dive tourism have been able to eclipse the environmentally destructive fishing practices, providing the local population with a sustainable source of regular lease payments, and more importantly, ownership in a new valuable piece of “real estate.” Almost naturally, the local community at Wakatobi started to defend their new-found local marine resource against outside intruders and poachers, as well as threats that emerged from within their own communities. Of course, a large number of local inhabitants can also be seen as a threat to a marine conservation program. Any program without the presence of law enforcement and or an alternative cash flow would likely lead to over fishing and a damaged ecosystem.
The Wakatobi Dive Resort Collaborative Reef Conservation Program is a work in progress, constantly expanding and being fine-tuned as the community undergoes changes and as threats and opportunities emerge. However, we are confident that the Collaborative Reef Conservation Program is a sound, self-sustaining program that will protect the reefs of Wakatobi Islands for generations.