Dec 06, 2023 Last Updated 11:47 PM, Dec 5, 2023

Saving Bunaken

Published: Jul 30, 2007

Mark V Erdmann

Bunaken National Park (TNB) in North Sulawesi was established as a marine park in October 1991. It has become one of Indonesia's best-known marine ecotourism destinations. The park encompasses 79,056 hectares of land and sea. A southern mainland section, the Arakan-Wowontulap coast, is set aside mainly for its old-growth mangrove forests and dugong population. The northern section consists of five islands famous for their drop-off fringing coral reefs. The USAID-funded Natural Resources Management Program (NRM) was extensively involved in management planning throughout the early 1990s, culminating in 1996 in the Bunaken National Park Management Plan. However, despite this NRM assistance, its formal status as a national park and its international reputation, TNB has suffered a slow but continuous degradation of its marine resources. This is largely due to ineffective management and enforcement.

Two main factors lie behind the management shortcomings. One is a problematic zonation system, the other an increasingly irritable relationship between the park management authority (BTNB) and the local government. At the same time, private diving tourism operators have begun calling loudly for better protection of the park's reefs. Since mid-1998, a new NRM program known as NRM2 has been trying to strengthen the BTNB park authority and generally improve management.

Two specific initiatives have achieved encouraging results: the TNB zonation system is being revised in a participatory manner, and the private marine tourism sector has become involved in management and enforcement activities. Both have benefited from the Indonesian government's decentralisation policy, which has presented a good opportunity to revise current policies and improve management by including all those who have an interest in the park (the so-called primary stakeholders).


Indonesia's national parks are managed through a zonation system, whereby the park area is divided into various use zones, such as core conservation zones and community use zones. Regulations on activities vary in each zone. The 1996 Bunaken National Park Management Plan includes a proposed zonation system that was designed through a participatory process with villagers, dive operators, and government officials. Unfortunately, the 'official' TNB zonation system as set forth in the 1997 ministerial decree on TNB zonation is different from that proposed in the management plan. The official zonation does not specifically address what activities are allowed in each of the zones beyond some quite general discussion. For example, it simply says that 'sustainable' fishing methods are allowed in the community use zone. The result of these two conflicting zonations, and the lack of detailed regulations for each zone, has been great confusion among villagers, rangers, and dive operators alike. It has also paralysed the enforcement system.

In an attempt to clarify this situation, the BTNB and NRM2 began a multi-stakeholder, participatory revision process in early 2000. It focused on the two main user groups of the park's resources: villagers and the marine tourism sector. At the heart of the process with villagers lies a series of community meetings, using a combination of both formal open meetings and informal focal groups. This system allows villagers to air their concerns, discuss suggestions to improve the current zonation, and help draw up detailed regulations on activities to be allowed in each zone. At the same time, parallel meetings are also being conducted with a zonation committee from the North Sulawesi Watersports Association (NSWA), a group of environmentally concerned marine tourism operators in the area. Results of meetings with each group are shared with the other, and with both local and central government officials.

Meetings have been lively and productive. Both of the primary user groups - villagers and tourism operators - have shown a willingness for compromise. This is a key point, since there is the potential for diametrically opposed viewpoints on park usage between these two groups. The first phase of this revision process focused on Bunaken Island and is now complete after a lengthy period of public commentary. Throughout this first phase, emphasis was placed on recording the 'lessons learned', which are now being used to improve the revision process as it moves to the other areas of the park. The entire process is expected to take up to two years. In the end, the park should have a zonation that is agreeable to all stakeholder parties - one that will therefore be a robust and effective management tool.

Dive operators

Involving private tourism operators in managing the park has been a new NRM2 initiative. Seven marine tourism companies operating in TNB formed the NSWA in mid-1998. They had become alarmed at the rapid degradation of the reefs caused by anchor damage from the ever-increasing number of tourism boats visiting the park every day. With NRM2 support, the NSWA grew to thirteen operators and officially banned anchoring in the park by its members. They developed a self-reporting scheme whereby violators of the ban faced the threat of being exposed in the local newspaper. At the same time, a mooring buoy design competition, with cash awards, was held in the villages of the park. Villagers were able to show their expertise in designing boat moorings. They also developed a sense of ownership of the moorings and began to work together with the dive operators. The campaign was very successful - anchoring by dive boats is no longer a threat to TNB's reefs.

International diving magazines gave the successful stop-anchoring campaign positive publicity. Thus encouraged, the NSWA moved on to new programs aimed at further protecting TNB's reef resources. One key area of concern was to increase the benefits of tourism to local villagers. That way villagers would acquire an interest in also protecting the park's resources. Each operator made a specific commitment to hire more TNB villagers in their operations as dive guides or boat captains. NSWA members also sponsored a local handicrafts program by ordering embroidered handkerchiefs, coconut shell carvings and other souvenirs from the TNB villagers, who had been given loans to start up their cottage industries. Most recently, the NSWA began a scholarship donation program. Diving guests are encouraged to donate to the fund, which recently awarded two marine sciences university fellowships and one tourism vocational school scholarship to three promising young students from villages within the park.

Enforcement issues have also been a top concern of NSWA members. While the NSWA wants to work with the villagers as much as possible, experience has shown that certain villagers will continue to engage in illegal and reef-destructive activities within the park if enforcement is not an integral part of TNB management. Each month, the NSWA contributes fuel and boat time to local water police and park rangers to help with patrol activities. Most recently, the NSWA has instituted a one-time, US$5 fee per diver to support a Bunaken preservation fund. The fund was spurred by a serious increase in illegal cyanide fishing in the park. It is managed under a memorandum of understanding between the NSWA, the BTNB authority, and the local water police. The agreement pays for stepped-up patrols, especially at night. The NSWA is now also supporting the repair, maintenance and fueling of both ranger and police boats.

The new enforcement efforts have already met with great success. Since June 2000, three high profile 'busts' resulted in seventeen cyanide and bomb fishers being sent to jail - a 'first' for Indonesia! Villager response has been overwhelmingly positive. Several village leaders publicly announced their support for NSWA assistance in protecting the park from this menace that threatens the livelihoods of both 'honest' fishers and dive operators.

Local government

One of the biggest obstacles to effective management of TNB has been the antagonistic relationship between the local North Sulawesi government and the BTNB authority. The conflict goes back to the late 1980s, when the Bunaken Sea Garden nature reserve was 'upgraded' to the status of a marine national park. Control over the park, including the authority to collect entrance fees, then passed from the local to the central government.

In an effort to reduce the conflict, the NRM2 program has worked with both the BTNB and local government to develop a new park entrance fee system that benefits both parties. The new system revolves around a Bunaken National Park Management Advisory Board bringing together various stakeholders. This board manages the funds collected. This initiative should be on-line by December 2000, and should lay the groundwork for a more cooperative relationship between the BTNB and local government. Importantly, the ministry of forestry has approved this groundbreaking model of multi-stakeholder local management as a two-year pilot project.

Part of the entrance fees will be distributed to local government programs, but the vast majority will be used to fund management activities within the park, such as mangrove and reef restoration, beach clean-ups, village improvement schemes, and enforcement. The management advisory board will include representatives from BTNB, provincial and municipal government, village leaders, environmental NGOs, and private sector marine tourism operators. By allowing multiple stakeholders an equal voice in this advisory board, truly effective management of Bunaken National Park may soon become a reality.

Dr Mark V Erdmann ( is the Marine Protected Areas Advisor to the NRM2/EPIQ Program in North Sulawesi.

Inside Indonesia 65: Jan - Mar 2001

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