Alumni Spotlight: Sri Fitriani Monoarfa and the Economic Value of Whale Shark Tourism in Botubarani Village

Alumni Spotlight: Sri Fitriani Monoarfa and the Economic Value of Whale Shark Tourism in Botubarani Village

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the whale shark, or Rhincodon typus, has been added to IUCN's red list of endangered species, following a population decline of 50% over the last three generations. While the causes of the whale shark population’s decline are not yet fully known, the conservation of their remaining habitat is more critical now than ever before.

As an archipelagic country, Indonesia provides just such a habitat, and is already a well-established feeding ground along the whale shark’s migratory route. That’s why the Indonesian government’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries moved to officially protect the whale shark with a recent law: No.18/Kepmen-KP/2013. As a result, Indonesia has become a major tourist attraction for visitors drawn to see the elusive whale shark in its natural environment.

Located in the Bone Bolango regency of Gorontalo province, Indonesia, Botubarani is one example of a coastal village that has become increasingly well known for its native whale sharks. In Botubarani, it’s normal to see whale sharks swimming in local waters and breaching the surface, as they feed on the migrating larval fish, or nike. Not surprisingly, Botubarani has seen a huge increase in tourism related specifically to the whale sharks. As such, Sri Fitriani Monoarfa, one of our Marine Fellowship Program fellows, set out to study the economic value of whale shark tourism to her village and to develop an economic-based policy to sustainably manage tourist activity. Monoarfa's research yielded several major findings.

With the help of CSF's staff and partners, Monoarfa was able to identify the carrying capacity of whale shark tourism in Botubarani village, estimating it to be around 1,560 persons per year with a tourist season between May and July. In addition, she was able to calculate the total economic value of Botubarani's whale shark tourism to be around Rp. 7.894.602.230,- per year. Using both these findings and what she learned through the fellowship program, Monoarfa then drafted a set of strategic recommendations for the management of Botubarani’s whale shark tourism industry.

Sri Fitriani Monoarfa Measuring a Whale Shark. Photo Credit: Sri Fitriani Monoarfa.
Sri Fitriani Monoarfa Measuring a Whale Shark. Photo Credit: Sri Fitriani Monoarfa.

According to these recommendations, Botubarani's management of whale shark tourism requires a three-tiered approach: (1) the community needs to increase economic activities surrounding whale sharks with an eye towards sustainability and inclusivity, (2) the main goal of marine management should focus primarily on conservation of the limited whale shark habitat and population, and (3) all community stakeholders should form a “tourism-awareness group” in coordination with the Department of Fisheries and Marine Affairs in Gorontalo Province to better manage tourist activities.

In September of 2020, Monoarfa shared these findings along with her set of policy recommendations through a targeted webinar with key stakeholders in Gorontalo Province. The webinar was attended by 28 participants from diverse sectors, including non-governmental organizations, government institutions, local tourist organizations, and the Gorontalo Provincial Development Planning Agency (BAPPEDA Gorontalo). The event was a huge success and generated a lot of interest, specifically from BAPPEDA Gorontalo. In fact, BAPPEDA Gorontalo indicated that they would be using Monoarfa's research as a potential foundation for future development planning.

Sri Fitriani Monoarfa’s dissemination. Photo by: Hasanul Adha Fauzi
Sri Fitriani Monoarfa’s dissemination webinar. Photo credit: Hasanul Adha Fauzi

Monoarfa is proud and excited to see her work being influential in her local community. “The Fellowship program from CSF made it possible for me to contribute to my hometown's development,” says Monoarfa. “And the training and mentoring sessions helped me to create an impactful research paper.”

The Marine Fellowship Program is made possible with generous support from The David and Lucile Packard Foundation. To learn more about Sri Fitriani Monoarfa’s field research, you can read this blog post on how Monoarfa conducted her research, and this coverage of her research by Indonesia’s Provincial Development Planning Agency.