Togean National Park: Central Sulawesi

The Togean island chain is an ecological wonder located in Tojo Una-Una regency, Central Sulawesi, about a 10-hour journey from Palu. But local people have protested against the designation of the Togean National Park. The Forestry Ministry designated a 411,373-hectare area as a marine tourism park in February 2004 following a proposal from the local government. Backed by the Tojo Una-Una regent, the Forestry Ministry then added another 362,605 ha in October 2004 to create the Togean National Park. However, local people protested against this. The Toloka Foundation, a local non-governmental group, demanded the ministry revoke its decision on the grounds that it restricted local livelihoods, while in practice leaving the park open to other kinds of exploitation. Toloka argued this was contrary to the spirit of regional autonomy.

Nonetheless, government stuck to its position according to Ruslan Sangadji.

According to research conducted by Conservation International, the area, which is located in Tomini Bay, is home to at least 596 fish species, two of them believed to be endemic to the area — the Paracheilinus togeanensis and the Ecsenius.

It also recorded 555 mollusk species from 103 families and 336 gastropod species.

A staff member at the Togean National Park Center, Muhammad Iksan, said recently that the area was also home to at least 262 coral species, comprised of 19 families, and that one of them was endemic — the Acropora togeanensis.

Iksan said the condition of corals found in 25 locations in the Togean island chain varies, with 4 percent of them in excellent condition, 16 percent in good condition and 40 percent in moderate condition. The remaining 28 percent are in poor condition and 12 percent in very poor condition.

The National Park Center spokesman explained that the islands have low plain forests covering 60 percent of the land area.
These forests mostly comprise large trees with high economic value.

Studies show local forests have been exploited by logging activities by the PT Arrow Gobel concession company since 1999.
Commercial tree varieties mostly found on Togean Island, especially around Mount Benteng, include the uru (Elmerrillia ovalis), palapi (Heritiera javanica) and siuru (Koordersiolendron pinnatum). Other tree species commonly used by locals as building material include the duabanga and moluccana.

Tojo Una-Una Development Planning Board (Bappeda) head Muhammad Taslim also gave data showing that the area had plentiful mangroves on major islands, such as Talataloh, Togean, Batudaka and some parts of the Waleabahi islands.

Besides functioning as a coastline buffer, mangroves also enhance coral reef ecosystems and associated fisheries which local people depend on for their livelihood.

Studies have also identified at least 50 animal species living in local mangroves, such as apes (10 genus), fishes (10 genus), amphibians (2 genus), reptiles (3 genus) and mammals (2 genus).
Delta crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) can still found in mangroves around Kilat, Bambu and Wakai bay, as well as green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and scaled turtles (Eretmochelys imbricate).

Local residents also sometimes encounter the dugong sea mammal in the area, where nambo seagrass is abundant.

Research also indicates that the area is home to at least 90 bird species, including the protected Sulawesi julang or alo (Rhyticeros Cassidix) and the bondol eagle (Halistur indus).

Given this impressive list of flora and fauna it may be surprising that local people have protested against the Togean National Park. However the Park Center is confronted with a number of community issues raised by NGOs as well as local residents, mostly arising from the designation of a national park in an already inhabited area.

For example when local government wanted to promote economic development, it was confronted with a land tenure system which enshrined traditional local rights to manage natural resources, which had been practiced through generations in the Togean islands.

Local government decisions on such issues have sometimes appeared to reflect partiality and special interests as far as local people are concerned. Forest area encroachment, mangrove forest conversion, coral reef destruction and overfishing all result from poor natural resource management. These undermine local livelihoods and impact negatively both economically and socially on local communities.

The primary issue here is poor national park management, especially poor regulatory enforcement which has failed to ensure sustainable environmental benefits reaching local community stakeholders rather than commercial interests.

“So, justice and wisdom on the part of the government is essential for the sake of the local people,” said Toloka Foundation activist, Jafar M. Amin.