This construction is part an ambitious Indonesian initiative. It has caused tensions between a government looking to develop natural attractions for luxury tourist and conservationists concerned about the impact on endangered Komodo dragon habitat. Officials from the United Nations have expressed concerns about possible tourism impacts on this special wildlife-rich park.

Komodo National Park covers approximately 850 sq. miles (2,200 km) of land and sea area. It was established in 1980 to protect the famous dragons. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry in Indonesia estimates that around 3,000 reptiles are found there today. They also include manatee-like sea turtles, whales, and more than 1,000 species of tropical fish.

The park was designated a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site because of its beauty and biodiversity. It is also one of Indonesia’s most popular tourist destinations, drawing thousands of tourists from all over the globe each year.

The government has struggled for years to find the best way to capitalize on the park. Most recently, the “10 New Balis” initiative was launched to attract more tourists. This is similar to what the island of Bali did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Associated Press was informed by Sandiaga Uno, Indonesia’s Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy. “We are entering into a new era in tourism in Indonesia based upon nature and culture. We focus on sustainability and quality tourism.”

A multimillion-dollar tourism development includes a Rinca Island project. More than one third of the park’s dragons live on hot, dry terrain. Construction includes an expanded ranger station and viewing platform, boat dock, toilets, and other infrastructure.

Local environmental activists are concerned about the project. Residents living within the park boundaries say that their livelihoods as boat drivers, tour guides, and souvenir sellers are dependent on the natural beauty of the area.

“When we discuss the development of conservation areas, we must think… whether it is a wisely considered economically for the local people –or the environmental effect,” stated Gregorius, a member the local non-governmental organisation Sun Spirit for Justice and Peace. “The current situation is similar to collective suicide.

“We believe that this type of business will eventually destroy other businesses and even themselves, because they destroyed the environment,” Afioma stated. He also said that local residents fear that they won’t be able to get construction jobs in the luxury tourist destination that the Indonesian government promotes.

Concerns about the development of the park have also been raised by UNESCO, the United Nations agency that designsate World Heritage Site status.

Guy Debonnet (chief of the body’s natural heritage unit) stated that the state party didn’t inform them as required under the operational guidelines. “This project is very concerning, as we believe that it has not been adequately evaluated in terms of the impact on the universal value (of park).

UNESCO raised other concerns during a July meeting, including the reduction of the park’s wilderness area to one-third of its previous area, the addition of tourism concessions within it, a lack of an environmental impact assessment and a target of dramatically increasing visitors.

According to a report by the meeting, “Third-party data transmitted to the State Party indicates the proposal of 500,000 annual visits for the property,” stated a report. This raises the question as to how this tourism model aligns with (Indonesia’s) vision of shifting away from mass tourism and towards more sustainable methods.

The country provided more details about the project at UNESCO’s request. After reviewing the information, the U.N. agency demanded that Indonesia “not proceed with any tourism infrastructure project which may affect the Outstanding Universal Value of this property before a review of relevant environmental impact assessments” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

IUCN, an international non-governmental organization, provides technical evaluations for natural heritage properties to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee.

The Associated Press failed to obtain permission from the government after multiple attempts. The site has been closed to the public since several months. Satellite imagery shows that construction continues even though UNESCO asked for the project to be halted. Last week, the government didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

Debonnet, chief of the world heritage unit, stated that UNESCO had not received the revised assessment requested as of Dec. 6.

According to Shana Fatina (president of the Labuan Bajo Flores Tourism Authority), which coordinates government tourism efforts, at least two Indonesian business permits were granted in Komodo National Park.

Experts fear that tourism expansion could cause disturbance to the Komodo dragon habitat.

The IUCN has moved the status of predatory lizards from “vulnerable” (or threatened) to “endangered”. They can grow up to 10 feet (3 meters) in length and weigh more than 300 pounds (135 kg). The reasons for the change were attributed to climate change and habitat destruction, including human encroachment.

Tourism projects, if not managed carefully, could have a “big impact”, Bryan Fry, an associate professor at Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences. This could have a dramatic impact on the delicate balance of these islands.

The official opening date of the Rinca Island facilities is yet to be determined. Debonnet of UNESCO stated that it is in discussions with Indonesian officials about arranging a monitoring mission to evaluate the impact of continuing development on the park, and to review its conservation status.

Debonnet said that Komodo National Park, which is usually considered World Heritage, will be discussed by the UNESCO Committee on two-year cycles. He said, “This is kind of a sign that we see there’s some urgency in the issue.”