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Enter the Dragon

Eco-Friday blog post

The destructive acceleration of over tourism has been a frequent topic in the media for what feels like years, and a fitting example of this caught my eye this week.

Until relatively recently, the idea that a 370-square-kilometre mountainous rock in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago would become a popular tourist attraction was far-fetched. It had been sparsely populated for centuries, known almost exclusively to locals. But ‘Komodo Island’ as it has become known to Tourists, is home to the impressive and now endangered Komodo Dragon.

Rightly or wrongly, humans love something to see that is truly ‘anecdote-worthy’ when we play tourist – and in the case of wildlife, often the rarer the better! In 2016, an upgrade to the Labuan Bajo regional airport, which serves the 29 islands that make up the Unesco-protected Park, meant it went from being able to handle 150,000 tourists a year to 1.5 million. That’s a lot of infrastructure and pressure on resources, shrinking an already small habitat, mainly to serve people’s desire to tick an item off a ‘must see’ list. But to observe a species in its natural habitat to the point where it becomes endangered has become a very common tourism industry trait.

Authorities in Indonesia originally considered a temporary closure so they could plant native vegetation and help to restock the dragon’s food supply, thereby hopefully seeing a rise in numbers. As a compromise, they have announced this week the decision to charge a premium fee - turning visiting the islands into a privilege - a $1000 privilege. The ‘membership fee’ is intended to reduce over tourism, and is a potential model for other ecologically sensitive sites that have also failed to manage the blight caused by over interest.

Komodo Island is just the latest story to highlight the need for considered planning when it comes to showcasing the natural world for the benefit of tourism. No matter how big or small it may be, consideration to the long-term sustainability of any venture needs to be at the fore.

Tourist footprints that ‘tread lightly’ are the best way forward to safeguard unique flora and fauna. Living in one of only nine biospheres in Australia, we see first-hand the effort that goes in to ensuring fragile ecosystems, which make this area so special and unique, are preserved.

Special and unique places go hand in hand with people wanting to see them. Let’s hope moving forward, we can see them, appreciate them, and love them, without killing or irreversibly damaging them at the same time!

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