The Relationship of Marine Tourism, Fishing Activities, and Conservation Efforts on Derawan Island

Heva Hayuqo Yumi, University of Rhode Island


Derawan Island in eastern Indonesia exemplifies how the designation of a new development category called a “Tourism Village” might not be optimal for a small island because of some issues which may be correctable. Derawan was historically a fishing village. Located in the Coral Triangle, the island is known for its unique biodiversity and world-class diving, and today the island relies on marine tourism as its primary livelihood. Using a qualitative approach, this paper explores the small island’s problems in trying to accommodate tourism development, fishing activities, and conservation policies in the Coastal Park Derawan area. The island is a case where these aspects co-exist in a small island setting.

Coastal Park Derawan is a system which cannot be separated from one another. In 2012, the government designated Derawan, along with other places, as a Tourism Village, to grow the local economy and maintain cultural values. However, many former fishers in Derawan retain the feelings and identities of small-scale fishers as members of the Bajau ethnic group, known in the region as people with strong ties to the ocean.

On the mainland, the Tourism Village program found success. However, on a small island, tourism may involve more trade-offs, constituting environmental and sociocultural externalities. The temptation of tourism has made the locals shift away from their traditional fishing livelihood. The Tourism Village designation is supposed to be followed by comprehensive programs in connected aspects. Rather than designating the island as a “Tourism Village,” as a singular concept, the island could incorporate fishing and conservation into its identity. If too many locals switch their livelihood from fishing to tourism, it could be construed as a cost of tourism development. Not only would such a shift potentially change the island’s identity as a fishing village, it could also threaten the fishing industry on a small island.

A small island is at greater danger from these changes than the mainland because it is geographically isolated and the locals have limited options for a livelihood. Since Indonesia consists of a thousand small islands with tourism and fishing resources, it is essential to understand the relationship of these intertwining problems, and the potential costs and the challenges in marine tourism development on a small island, especially for those located in conservation areas.