Test Design Lighthouse

A Marine National Park and its contributionto sustainable development

Analysis based on a case study of Wakatobi Marine National Park, Indonesia


Ethnologist Jessica Belke and geographer Jochen Kranik left their homes in Hamburg to spend close to half a year in south-east Indonesia completing the field research for their graduation thesis projects. The idea of the change of scene, from desk-based research to the far-eastern reality, was to be able to study at first hand the daily lives of the local population living with, and in, a Marine National Park, and to identify the problem areas for future development. With the support of the Lighthouse Foundation they paid special attention to the changes activated by the establishment of the National Park, and the question of how to set about measuring and reporting on sustainable development.


Red algae production for agar-agar extraction is an alternative source of income for the Wakatobi region.
Fresh fish need to be marketed quickly. Surpluses are salted and stored as dried fish, some of which are sold to Bau Bau.

The Wakatobi Marine National Park (WMNP), a national park in south-east Sulawesi with a philosophy guided by sustainable development criteria, served as a real-world case study for this work. Belke and Kranik held a series of discussions with the National Park administration, its rangers, large and small non-governmental organisations (NGO) and tourism companies, and carried out countless interviews with local fishers. However it was of prime importance to engage in participatory observations in situ, and to conduct surveys in the sea nomads' village of Sampela.


To sum up: the WMNP is not, unfortunately, the perfect example of sustainable development that was hoped – but it is certainly an honest example and reflects the problems of implementing the idealistic goals of Agenda 21.

In 1996 the Wakatobi Marine National Park assumed responsibility for the conservation and use of the area under protection, and thus in the broadest sense it is responsible for the change in resource use which is clearly having a detrimental effect on sustainable development. Errors in the National Park's development were caused not only by shortage of money, personnel and know-how, but also by corruption, central planning errors, disinterest, cultural disparities, bureaucracy and a lack of motivation and creativity.


Even though, at first glance, there is little that is obviously positive to report about the WMNP, time and again closer examination at micro-level reveals a glimmer of light and grounds for hope. So certain processes are subtly under way which could have a positive impact in future. Particular points to be noted in this respect are:


  • the population's heightened environmental awareness,
  • the building of a distinct and strengthening identity for the minority (Bajau) population,
  • the formation of appropriate organisational structures,
  • the formation of local NGOs,
  • the initiation of approaches involving participation,
  • the acceptance of, and adherence to, the "no-fishing zone",
  • the boosting of alternative sources of income.


These positive approaches constitute the fabled "silver lining" of the cloud, and give grounds for optimism.


Indonesia can boast the most extensive network of conservation zones in the whole of south-east Asia, possesses some of the world's most enviable environmental legislation and seeks to be guided by the model of sustainable development. Nevertheless, management plans in the majority of its national parks have not been implemented to date. Measures have been put into practice half-heartedly, if at all, and at both national and local level, other issues are being given priority. The investment needed to protect natural ecosystems is perceived as uneconomic in the immediate context and not seen as an investment in the future.


In the past, the main arguments used to justify environmental concerns were ethical ones. Environmentalists primarily concentrated on using the diversity, uniqueness and beauty of the ecosystems to win round national and local decision makers – yet this method has not proved particularly successful.


Rather than concentrating on long-term issues, it is better to focus attention on the immediate and direct economic impacts of resource protection and more planned, environmentally sound use of resources. Studies of the economic potential of coral reefs show not only the potential benefits provided by the sea and the corals, but also the economic losses which ensue from destructive fishing practices and over-fishing. Because nature provides ecosystem services (e.g. fish production, algae ingredients) and ecosystem functions (e.g. the self-purifying capacity of water, coral reefs as spawning grounds for marine organisms) at no apparent cost, too often there is a failure – not just in Indonesia, but worldwide – to recognise these benefits and factor them into the overall economic accounts.


The study by Belke and Kranik can be downloaded in full as a pdf file.





To top