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MFP Stories from the field: A journey from nadir and back

Kiluan Bay sunset Indonesia dolphin tourism
Kiluan Sunset. Photo credit: Putu Liza Kusuma Mustika

When I was selected to be a CSF Marine Fellow, I was very happy because it meant I could continue my work with dolphin tourism in Indonesia, building on the work I did for my Ph.D. in Lovina, Bali. In particular, I was excited to include Kiluan Bay in Lampung as a study site. Amongst all emerging dolphin-watching sites in Indonesia, Kiluan is the most interesting to me because tourism operators there use the same boat type as in Lovina - outrigger canoes.

Thus, I was ecstatic to be driving to Kiluan with my team of enumerators on a humid April day. It was not a difficult journey, but the 3-hour drive was on winding roads, most of them unpaved. We did have to stop just outside Kiluan when we encountered a very damaged road section. It was so damaged that more than half of the road was gone and the locals said it was because of erosion from a recent heavy rain. The journey ended well in the very quiet bay of Kiluan.

damaged road on the way to Kiluan Bay Indonesia dolphin tourism
Damaged road section on the way to Kiluan. Photo credit: Putu Liza Kusuma Mustika

I found it too quiet, actually. When we arrived on a Friday evening, I was expecting that Kiluan would be packed with tourists, like in the online videos I had watched about this place. But no, it was a very scenic and quiet bay that welcomed us. I was relieved at first because I needed my sleep that night. The homestay by the beach, with the sea every now and then lapping and kissing the shore, was truly a welcoming lullaby.

The next day, I found out why it was so quiet: during the Idul Fitri season of 2016, some local tourists were swept away by waves in a nearby lagoon. This accident reduced the number of visits to Kiluan significantly, and the tsunami in December 2018 caused visitation numbers to plunge even further. As a result, we only saw two boats taking tourists to see dolphins that day.

outrigger canoes in Kiluan Bay Indonesia dolphin tourism
Outrigger canoes in Kiluan Bay. Photo credit: Putu Liza Kusuma Mustika

This industry, which experienced its golden years from 2012-2016, is now at its lowest point. During its heyday, a tour boat in Kiluan Bay could do 2-3 dolphin watching trips per day. Once on New Year’s Eve, there were so many tourists in town that they rented out the homestay balconies because all the rooms were booked.  But now, dolphin-watching tourism in Kiluan Bay is but a shadow of its former self. From a conservation viewpoint, this is a good thing. However, from the livelihood perspective, I cannot help but feel sorry for the income loss that these fishers are experiencing.

Perhaps this is where my research can help. I intend to calculate the optimum income these fishers can receive from the dolphin watching industry, and document their perceptions about tourism. Most importantly, I can help redesign their dolphin watching industry to adhere to the principles of sustainable tourism. Kiluan has experienced a journey from nadir to zenith before plunging sharply back to nadir. However, knowing well the nature of tourism in Indonesia, it’s likely that Kiluan will see a resurgence. I hope we have time to guide Kiluan towards sustainability so the boatmen and the dolphins can coexist peacefully.

This Marine Fellowship Program is made possible with generous support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

MFP Project: Dolphin-watching tourism as an alternative or supplemental livelihood for marginalized artisanal fishers in Indonesia.

Projects or courses this news item is about: 
Marine Fellowship Program