Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mangrove Ecotours and Conservation

Onthe island of Nusa Lembongan, tour operators and environmentalists are workingtogether to protect a vital resource.

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

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

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

Wayan Sukitra, 47, said he recognized about 20 years ago that the mangroveclusters bordering the beach in his village of Jungutbatu could become anadditional attraction for tourists, who come mostly to dive in the island’scoral-rich waters and to enjoy its tranquil white-sand beaches. After meeting aFrench tourist who took a special interest in the mangroves, Wayan decided tomove 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 themangrove forest that now boasts 13 species of the tree and is home to 30 birdsspecies, minotaurs, lizards, crabs and a host of insects and butterflies.

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

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

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

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

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