Nestled in the middle of the Gulf of Tomini (Central Sulawesi, Indonesia), just 30 km south of the equator, the Togean Islands archipelago, formed by volcanic activity, is composed of seven principal islands and their satellites on a shallow plateau no deeper than 200 meters.
An almost continuous barrier reef protects this plateau. The Togeans occupy approximately 70 000 ha of land, with a total marine and terrestrial area of nearly 200 000 ha, and stretch for about 90 km.
The jewel of Central Sulawesi
Stunning reefs, small isolated white sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters, verdant mangrove, traditional fishermen villages, and luxuriant tropical forest make the Togean Islands a true paradise on earth. The biggest attractions of the Togeans are their great natural beauty and recreational potential. They are a particularly attractive snorkeling and scuba-diving destination because of the clear and calm waters of the sheltered bay.
The archipelago is frequently mentioned as containing all four coral reef types (patch, fringing, barrier and atoll reefs) in close proximity. It is located in the Coral Triangle, an area with extraordinary levels of marine biodiversity. There are at least 596 reef fish species in the waters around the Togean Islands. According to Conservation International Indonesia data, the islands provide a home to 315 coral species.
Unique and endangered fauna
Many endangered species use the Togean Islands as a breeding ground, including dugongs, hawksbill and green sea turtles. These islands also support one of the last populations of the endangered coconut crab (Birgus latro), a giant crab that spends most of its life on land. Although still relatively abundant in the Togeans, this crab has been wiped out throughout most of its range in Indonesia by human predation.
Almost 60% of the land area of the Togeans is covered in tropical forest that supports an impressive array of local and Sulawesi endemic species including: the Togean macaque — a primate only described in 1996, the Togean lizard, the babirusa or “pig deer”, and the Togean Tarsier (the smallest primate in the world). In addition, there are relatively high numbers of marine species, with perhaps some exclusive to the Togean Islands. Conserving the forest habitat that these animals require for survival is as much a priority as are the islands’ marine environments.
The People of the Togeans
At a glance
Approximately 30 000 people representing six ethnic groups (Togeanese, Bajo, Bobongko, Buginese, as well as Gorontalonese and Javanese transmigrants) inhabit the seven major islands of the Togean Islands (Una-Una, Batudaka, Togean, Talatakoh, Malenge, Waleakodi, and Waleabahi). There are 37 villages, each with its own pattern of livelihood. In some of the villages, such as those of the Bajo, nearly all are fishermen. In other villages, farming is the main activity. A small proportion is employed in the tourism industry but it is mostly during high season (July and August).
Despite an abundance of natural resources, most people living in the Togean Islands are poor.
29 of the 37 villages fall within the category of poor villages, in which monthly income per capita is below 500 000 Rupiahs (≈ € 40).
In Katupat, the small village where the EVERTO initiative was born, most people live in stilt bamboo or wooden houses with very basic comfort.
Here are a few eloquent figures about Katupat:
< Rp 500.000 (≈ € 40):
Rp 11 millions (≈ € 935):
Rp 13 millions (≈ € 1 100):
inhabitants (10 500 in the archipelago)
of the households have running water
of the households have electricity (generator)
of unemployed people
monthly salary (fisher, farmer)
of children go to primary school
of them pursue further education
annual cost for junior high school
annual cost for senior high school
Most women in Katupat are stay-at-home mothers. Five of them cook or do the house cleaning at Fadhila Cottages, others have small jobs such as making coconut oil, bamboo hats or doing the laundry.
The Togean Islands face local as well as national development pressures.
Increasing mass of plastic waste
Like in many regions of Southeast Asia, plastic is a real issue. The diffusion of new consumer goods in these countries has inevitably increased the mass of waste (particularly packaging). Yet the governments have not done enough in terms of waste management. In the Togean Islands, there is no waste collection, treatment or recycling system.
Furthermore, plastic bags have replaced organic packaging (like banana leaves) in the last two decades, but there has been a lack of education on how to dispose of plastic. As a result, people either burn their plastic rubbish, bury them underground or worse, throw them away, on the street and in the ocean, without really understanding the consequences. This results in an increasing ground, water and air pollution.
Cyanide and dynamite fishing
Since the 90′s, cyanide fishing has been largely carried out by local fishers and live fish traders from Hong Kong and the large cities of Indonesia (Makassar and Jakarta). Cyanide fishing is a nonselective, destructive fishing technique that impacts coral health and kills non-target organisms, such as other invertebrates and fish. Exposure of corals to cyanide causes rapid signs of stress and bleaching, and at high concentrations, progressive tissue sloughing that can lead to colony mortality.
Dynamite fishing has been mostly used by local fishers to get quick cash. Fish caught using bombs are usually for salting and sold outside the Togeans for increasingly higher prices. Dynamiting results in the most damage to coral reefs: where it has occurred, only coral rubble and a crater on the substrate remain. Luckily in many places, coral reefs have started to beautifully grow again, but there are still some “dead” areas.
These unsustainable and dangerous fishing methods are illegal, but law is not always enforced and they are still commonly practiced on the sly. Besides, coral reefs have not totally recovered from the 1990′s massive poison/ blast practice.
Commercial logging has been illegal in the Togeans since 1996, so current forest clearing is carried out by local farmers to grow cash crops, mostly coconut, cacao and cloves.
One possible consequence of expanded farming is a reduction in the supply of fresh water (although El Niño is probably responsible as well). When wells dry up, local people have to travel far to the main water source near the forest. From an economic standpoint, allocating more time to accessing fresh water means that local people have less time to pursue activities that can generate income for them.
Crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS)
Crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) have had noticeable impacts on coral reefs in the Togeans. The presence in large numbers of this species converts coral reefs into a mass of dead coral skeleton in only a few weeks. Besides, COTS are very poisonous for humans as they provoke severe infections.
The causes of these outbreaks are not well understood, but they are probably a consequence of human activities (pollution, overfishing of Napoleon wrasse and Triton shells, its main predators).
Tourism in the region — though currently small in scale — developed rapidly in the late 90′s. If the number of visitors has declined since the sectarian conflict that broke out in Poso back in 2000, it has started to develop again. The Tojo Una-Una regency trusts in the amazing potential of the islands to boost the local economy and is focusing on promotion.
Indeed, tourism has the potential to benefit the environment in the Togeans if developed and managed in a way that helps local people and respects local biodiversity. To date, there has been no coordination among tour operators, or between these operators, government agencies, local operators and coastal communities. Furthermore, there are no adequate sanitation facilities, and no strategy to manage the ever-increasing number of visitors (and the resulting increasing waste). Dive operators continue to use anchors that damage coral reefs because no mooring buoys are yet available.
The capacity of government to respond to these threats is limited by over-stretched resources at both the provincial and national levels, the remoteness of the island group, and the lack of local NGO capacity to provide technical support and scientific information.
The Togean Islands were granted national park status in 2004 (within an area of 365 605 ha). Since then, a significant development is the promulgation of several national laws relating to coastal ecosystems, under which all activities which damage or destroy coral reefs are forbidden and most main threats to coral reefs (including coral mining) are explicitly listed with heavy fines and prison sentences. However, no cases have yet been brought to court let alone resulted in conviction. The national park status has not empowered and motivated the locals to properly police the area, and bring much needed revenues to the residents of this part of Sulawesi.