Helping Preserve Sharks and Mantas in Komodo National Park
Indonesia’s Komodo National Park is becoming famous for more than watching the legendary lizards. Divers are now getting up close with sharks and mantas as ecotourism grows in popularity.
In the past six years, visitors to Komodo National Park have increased about half to over 120,500, with 48% coming to dive. Among favourite spots for shark watchers is Crystal Rock, while manta observers prefer Karang Makassar. Ecotourism is on the rise; in 2014, it was reported that global ecotourism was valued at US$4.5 trillion, according to the United Nations Travel Organization. Such growing visitor numbers can negatively impact parks’ natural resources if not responsibly managed.
To address this, WWF in Indonesia began monitoring Komodo Park tourist engagements with sharks and mantas in November 2015. Locations that have become “research centers” include Batu Bolong, Crystal Rock, Manta Point, and other spots. Based on a 2016 WWF survey, more than 50% of tourists at Komodo National Park are interested in attractions with sharks and mantas. In addition, since December 2016, WWF has collaborated with Komodo Park and Department of Fisheries officials to monitor 11 priority areas for shark and manta tourism diving. The WWF team and dive operators collect data that includes appearance numbers of sharks and rays, as well as behaviour, size, and habitat information.
The collected data should support the growing movement towards shark and ray marine tourism as a viable and lucrative option to hunting these species for their fins and meat. WWF has published Responsible Shark and Ray Tourism – A Guide to Best Practice, which outlines a scientific, practical approach for ecotourism operators.
"WWF's value in monitoring sharks and rays in Komodo National Park is now recognized by government authorities, who have allocated a new budget amount towards supporting this activity," said WWF Researcher Ranny Yuneni. "This is a step in the right direction."
About the Contributors
Dwi Ariyogagautama started his career in WWF-Indonesia in 2009 under the Coral Triangle Programme as Fisheries Officer in East Nusa Tenggara Province. Since 2013, Dwi has led the Tuna performance improvement programme as Tuna Specialist Senior Officer. In 2014, he coordinated Bycatch and Sharks Conservation program to protect sea turtle and shark populations by encouraging implementation of National Plans of Action for the species, encouraging the protection of sharks’ critical habitats, developing bycatch technology and improvement of sustainable fishery practices.
Ranny R. Yuneni is an alumnus of Marine Sciences, Diponegoro University. During university in 2013, Ranny conducted research on manta rays in Komodo Islands with Manta Watch. In 2014, Ranny was one of the Women in Conservation in Dive Magazine (UK). At WWF, Ranny is responsible for conducting research on sharks and rays in several locations in Indonesia, seeking to mitigate pressure on the catching of critically endangered sharks. She also became an IUCN member of the Shark Specialist Group in Southeast Asia Region in 2016.