Official Website of the North Sulawesi Tourism Promotion Board (NSTPB)
Bunaken National Park
Local Time Manado:
The Bunaken National Marine Park was formally established in 1991 and is among the first of Indonesia's growing system of marine parks. The park covers a total
surface area of 89,065 hectares, 97% of which is overlain by sparkling clear, warm tropical water. The remaining 3% of the park is terrestrial, including the
five islands of Bunaken, Manado Tua, Mantehage, Nain and Siladen. Although each of these islands has a special character, it is the aquatic ecosystem that
attracts most naturalists.
The waters of Bunaken National Marine Park are extremely deep (1566 m in Manado Bay), clear (up to 35-40 m visibility), refreshing in temperature
(27-29 C) and harbor some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world. Pick any of group of interest - corals, fish, echinoderms or sponges - and
the number of families, genera or species is bound to be astonishingly high. For example, 7 of the 8 species of giant clams that occur in the world, occur in Bunaken.
The park has around 70 genera of corals; compare this to a mere 10 in Hawaii. Although the exact number of fish species is unknown, it may be slightly higher than in
the Philippines, where 2,500 species, or nearly 70% of all fish species known to the Indo-western Pacific, are found.
Oceanic currents may explain, in part, why Bunaken National Marine Park is such a treasure trove of biodiversity. Northeasternly currents generally sweep through the
park but abundant counter currents and gyros related to lunar cycles are believed to be a trap for free swimming larvae. This is particularly true on the south side of
the crescent-shaped Bunaken Island, lying in the heart of the park. A snorkler or diver in the vicinity of Lekuan or Fukui may spot over 33 species of butterfly fish and
numerous types of groupers, damsels, wrasses and gobies. The gobies, smallish fish with bulging eyes and modified fins that allow them to attach to hard surfaces, are the
most diverse but least known group of fish in the park.
Biologists believe that the abundance of hard corals is crucial in maintaining the high levels of diversity in the park. Hard corals are the architects of the reefs, without them,
numerous marine organisms would be homeless and hungry. Many species of fish are closely associated with particular types of corals (folious, branching, massives, etc.) for shelter
and egg-laying. Others, like the enormous Bumphead Parrotfish, Balbometopon muricatum, are "coralivores" and depend on hard corals for their sustenance. Bony mouth parts fused into
an impressive "beak" allow these gregarious fish to crunch corals like roasted peanuts.
Some 20,000 people live on the natural resources of Bunaken National Marine Park. Although there are inevitable conflicts between resource protection and use by people, the Indonesian
government is taking a fairly unusual and pragmatic approach to park management. The idea is to promote wise resource use while preventing overexploitation. Local communities, government
officials, dive resort operators, local nature groups, tourists and scientists have played an active role in developing exclusive zones for diving, wood collection, fishing and other
forms of utilization. Bunaken Marine Park has become an important example of how Sulawesi, and the rest of Indonesia, can work to protect its natural resources.
Bunaken Island offers a plethora of wall experiences for visiting divers. Everyone has their favorite site and mine is Lekuan 2. Judging from the number of divers who frequent the site,
many agree with me. The reasons are obvious immediately upon entry. You can't help but notice the high concentration of schooling fish from the drummers and fusliliers that greet you as
you begin your descent, the blizzards of brightly-colored anthias you pass along the edge of the reeftop, continuing to fall through the clouds of pyramid butterflyfish and bannerfish
underneath. The variety of reef fish is astounding: you could pick out over 20 species of butterflyfish alone if you so desired.
The start of the traditional dive offers small treasures as candy crabs frequent the beautiful soft corals in the area, often adorning themselves with a sprig of live soft coral they've
affixed atop their head. The faerie crab, a fingernail-sized squat lobster that's pink and hairy can be found by a discerning eye peering among the outer folds of barrel sponges. But don't
become engrossed with the macro life so much that you miss any of the larger residents: sharks that pass you by below your fins, napoleons wrasse or bumphead parrotfish above you, or turtles
out in the blue off the wall.
Toward the end of the site, the Lekuan point, the current predictably picks up just as you notice the schools of redtooth triggerfish around you. Sharks enjoy the current as well, often
coming up to only five meters in depth to cut over the point to Lekuan 1. Resident napoleons, giant trevally, jacks, batfish and solitary giant barracuda are predictably seen along this
stretch, but smaller denizens such as leaf scorpionfish are common as well, keeping your attention divided between the lush wall and the blue ocean.
With the wall going from only 2-5 meters along the top to 50-70 meters along the bottom, where a narrow shelf exists before the wall continues to plunge into the abyss, you can alter
your depth to find an entire new set of attractions dive after dive. Boredom is definitely not an option.
Now that you’ve arrived in Manado and enjoyed
a few breathtaking dives in the Bunaken National
Marine Park, you may be tempted to ask: "Just
where does my Rp 150,000 entrance fee go anyway"?
The answer will probably surprise you, as
Bunaken’s entrance fee system is the first of its
kind in Asia, and is being held up as a model system
by marine conservationists around the world.
The most important aspect of Bunaken’s system
is that the money collected remains with the
Bunaken Management Advisory Board to fund conservation
and village development programs in the
park – instead of heading to the national coffers
as with every other national park in Asia (and many
throughout the world)! This makes a world of difference,
as it means your money goes towards managing the very
reefs you’ve come to enjoy.
Moreover, the funds are controlled by a multi-stakeholder
management board comprised of the North
Sulawesi Watersports Association, villagers from
the 30 villages in the park, local tourism, fisheries
and environmental government agencies, and the
local university’s marine sciences department. This
setup ensures that the money collected is directed
to the most important programs needed in the park
(as agreed by this diverse set of interests).
To date, the Bunaken entrance fee system has been
extremely successful; having been inaugurated on 15
March 2001, the system collected US$125,112 from
March 2001 through August 2002, including
$83,109 in 2002 alone. These fees were collected
from 21,908 domestic visitors and 11,174 international
visitors from 43 different countries.
So, you ask, where did that money go? Each
year, the management board makes a yearly work
plan in which it prioritizes the most urgent conservation
issues in the park for funding. For the past
2 years, the unanimous top priority has been the
development of a joint villager/ranger/police
patrol team to stop destructive fishing practices
such as blast and cyanide fishing and other
illegal activities such as mangrove cutting and
capture of endangered wildlife such as turtles and
dugongs. The patrol system, while extremely effective,
has also been expensive, costing over $85,000 to date
(helped out by $33,000 in grants from WWF Wallacea).
The second priority has been village conservation
and development programs aimed at garnering
the support of the nearly 30,000 villagers in
the park. Over $35,000 in the past year has been
dedicated to programs in 24 villages, including
mangrove replanting, conservation education for
children, and construction of public wells, community
information boards, docks, toilet facilities, and
garbage disposal areas. The entrance fee has also
helped fund a village VHF radio network and has
even begun working on the plastic trash problem
from Manado, though it is clear that solving the
trash problem is a government issue that will require
significantly larger funding than the entrance
fee can provide. For a detailed monthly update on
the financial report from the board, please check
the website www.bunaken.or.id.
Sounds good, but has this money made a difference?
Absolutely, according to villagers, scientists
and divers alike! Villagers from throughout the park
have heralded the development of the patrol system
(and the village radio network) – which has
allowed villagers to help stop the blast and cyanide
fishing that was threatening not only your diving
but also their livelihoods and their children’s
future! Villager fishers have also reported an increase
in fish catches since the bombing and cyaniding have
stopped. Scientists studying Bunaken’s reefs have
documented an 11.3% increase in live coral cover between
January 2001 and September 2002 on Bunaken Island alone –
almost unheard of in a time when environmentalists around
the world are sounding the death knell for many of the
Perhaps most importantly to you, this difference
is very noticeable to divers. Mr. K.Y. Lee, a dive tour
leader from Singapore who has made 38 trips to
Bunaken since 1991, says that for the first time in
10 years he is seeing sharks or turtles on almost
every dive – he recently made a single dive with 9
turtle sightings! Both Michael Aw and Mike Severns
(professional underwater photographers who produced
the stunning books Beneath Bunaken and
Sulawesi Seas) have likewise commented on their
increasing satisfaction with the number of fish in
the park. As Mr. Lee enthusiastically claims, "I never
get tired of Bunaken’s beauty; every dive here is
like the first time." Note that Mr. Lee is putting his
money where his mouth is – in the past year he has
donated marine VCD’s, t-shirts, and scholarship
funding towards village conservation education programs
in the park in a bid to encourage Bunaken’s
villagers to take care of their resources.
International recognition of Bunaken’s success has
also been forthcoming from a number of environmental
organizations. The International Coral Reef
Action Network (ICRAN) has chosen Bunaken as its
single Asian demonstration site for sustainable reef
tourism, while the World Commission on Protected
Areas (WCPA) Southeast Asian Marine group has
selected Bunaken as one of four model marine protected
areas in the region. The World Wide Fund
for Nature (WWF) continues to expand
its programs in the park and uses
Bunaken as a model for work elsewhere
Here in Indonesia, the Indonesian Department
of Nature Conservation in
Jakarta has chosen to make Bunaken one
of its "centers of excellence" for training
for other parks. Thirteen other national
parks from throughout Indonesia (as well
as one each from Vietnam, Malaysia and
the Philippines) have visited Bunaken in
the past year and a half to study its management
system. With luck, the lessons
these national parks have learned from
Bunaken will help ensure that Southeast
Asia’s reefs can prosper and be worthy of
their title as the global center of marine
biodiversity. Happy diving!
Dr. MV Erdmann
Marine Protected Areas Advisor
NRM/EPIQ North Sulawesi