Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mangrove Ecotours and Conservation

On the island of Nusa Lembongan, tour operators and environmentalists are working together to protect a vital resource.

Found in tropical and subtropical tidal zones, mangroves are a natural defense for coastal areas, serving as buffers against storms and erosion and providing a vital source of nutrients for fish and coral reefs.

Despite the critical role they play in coastal ecosystems, vast tracts of mangrove forests are commonly cleared to make way for shrimp ponds or beachfront developments.

In Nusa Lembongan, a small island southeast of Bali, local communities have been quietly nurturing their mangroves, not only as part of a larger effort to preserve coastal resources, but also as a way to develop ecotourism on the island.

Wayan Sukitra, 47, said he recognized about 20 years ago that the mangrove clusters bordering the beach in his village of Jungutbatu could become an additional attraction for tourists, who come mostly to dive in the island’s coral-rich waters and to enjoy its tranquil white-sand beaches. After meeting a French tourist who took a special interest in the mangroves, Wayan decided to move forward with his idea and set about planting 150,000 mangrove trees.

Today, Wayan is one of 33 tour operators who provide boat rides through the mangrove forest that now boasts 13 species of the tree and is home to 30 birds species, minotaurs, lizards, crabs and a host of insects and butterflies.

The site attracts a regular stream of visitors, mostly from Australia and Europe. Several years ago, Wayan opened the Mangrove Bar and Restaurant, a cozy outdoor eatery on a quiet beach among the mangroves.

“In the busiest months, from July to November, the restaurant brings in good business,” Wayan said with a modest smile, declining to disclose his profit margin.

To keep the tourists coming, he added, the mangrove tour operators organize a monthly cleanup of the mangroves.

Three months ago, Nusa Lembongan was declared a “marine protected area,” along with the neighboring islands of Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan. The initiative aims to protect the area’s marine resources, including the mangrove forests, coral reefs, fish stocks and seaweed farms.

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