By Tunggadewa Mattangkilang
Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, Indonesia — The Berau district administration will relocate 700 households, or about 1,800 people, from the island of Derawan, East Kalimantan, amid plans to turn the island into a refuge for sea turtles and as one of the province’s marine tourism spots.
“The island’s conservation has to be maintained. Therefore the population on Derawan Island has to be controlled to prevent it from becoming too dense,” said Berau district head Makmur HAPK on Friday. “We will speak with the residents of the island so that they will agree to be relocated.”
Makmur said that the island was first inhabited in the 1960s by people from the Bajoe tribe of South Sulawesi but that people from other areas, primarily fishermen, started to inhabit the island.
The island’s rich marine ecology, especially its coral reefs and green turtles, are its main attractions. The island attracts about 22,000 tourists each year.
“The island is a conservation area that needs to be protected,” Makmur added. “However, we also need to be careful in implementing the policy to relocate the locals.”
The district administration has prepared 1,400 hectares of land for the relocation. Each household will get two hectares of land that can be used for farming.
The district administration will also ensure that the residents are relocated to coastal areas that will suit their backgrounds as fishermen.
The two areas currently being considered for relocation are Kampung Tanjung Batu and Kampung Kasai, which are part of the Derawan subdistrict.
Makmur said that the residents who agree to be relocated will still be the owners of their land on the Derawan Island. The local administration will build home-stays and facilities to support tourism on the island.
“The residents are still the owners of their land but the government will rent the land out so that the locals can still get to maintain their rights. We just want the island to be used completely as a tourist area,” he said.
Derawan Island subdistrict head Zulkifli said that so far 40 households have agreed to be relocated.
“We had to encourage them because the land is still theirs, but they agreed to be relocated because they will get two hectares of land,” he said.
Derawan Island and 11 others with a combined total area of 1.2 million hectares have been declared as the Berau Marine Conservation Area (KKLB) since 2005.
He added that Derawan Island is a place where green turtles lay their eggs. There were about 20 turtle nests found on the island with each one containing about 100 eggs. But the eggs are often stolen and some turtles are even slaughtered and turned into souvenirs.
The green turtle population in the Berau marine conservation area has declined by about 70 percent in the past decade.
The island’s tourism spot is currently managed by the Berau district administration while the conservation of its green turtles and coral reefs are managed by the World Wide Fund for Nature.