Sukitra wasn’t born a conservationist. It was a turn of events in his home village of Jungut Batu that transformed him into a leading figure of mangrove conservation.
“Several years ago, the villagers decided to open a large-scale salt farm on the beach near the village. In order to do so, we cleared the mangrove forest along the village’s coast,” he told The Jakarta Post last week.
It was a doomed enterprise. It turned out that salt farming was a grueling endeavor with a large window for failure. Moreover, the clearing of the mangroves made the village more vulnerable to natural disaster.
“The mangrove forest was a natural barrier. When it was gone, the sea water could easily reach our village and it did flood the village several times,” he said.
Jungut Batu lies in the northern part of Nusa Lembongan, one of the three islands off Bali’s southeastern coast. Nusa Lembongan is a favorite destination for visitors who yearn for a quiet hideaway with a fantastic beach.
The villagers abandoned salt farming and sought their fortunes in seaweed farming. They also replanted the mangrove forest.
“One day a French man came here and he was amazed to see how healthy and abundant the mangrove forest was,” Sukitra said.
The foreign visitor later told Sukitra the mangrove forest had promise as a tourist attraction.
“I was so inspired by what he said that later I approached my fellow villagers and asked them to join me in establishing a group that would manage the mangrove forest as a tourist attraction,” he said.
In 2000, Sukitra and 18 other villagers worked together and formed the group. It was later named the Mangrove Tour Group and Sukitra was elected its head.
“Each member provided one boat to the group. The boats would be used to take visitors on a tour across the forest,” he said.
For a single trip of around 30 minutes, the group charges each visitor Rp 50,000 (US$5.40).
“We set aside Rp 5,000 for the village and Rp 2,000 for the group’s fund and the remaining Rp 43,000 goes to the boat owners,” he said.
The mangrove tour provides additional income to the group’s members, who work mostly as seaweed farmers.
Sukitra said now the group had 33 members. Once a month, all the members participate in a clean-up activity to comb the forest looking for garbage. Unfortunately, said Sukitra, the group had yet to receive proper support from village leaders.
“This group has yet to be officially acknowledged by the head of the village even though we have set aside a percentage of our income for the village,” he said.
An outreach specialist of the Nature Conservancy, Marthen Welly, said he was impressed with the group’s efforts.
“They are able to organize themselves in preserving this mangrove forest. All we have to do is to facilitate cooperation between the group and the village so that this place can be better promoted and developed,” he said.
Source: The Jakarta Post – February 27, 2008
By Irawaty Wardany, Nusa Lembongan