Wakatobi Dive Resort Keeps Staff Employed for Maintenance and Conservation
The global coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly hit the dive business hard - but while travelling divers have been unable to visit their favourite destinations, the resorts and the people who staff them have faced tougher challenges yet.
This was very much the case for Wakatobi Dive Resort in Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia, unable to welcome guests for much of 2020 and now well into 2021 due to travel restrictions and lockdowns. But rather than shutter the operation and wait out the crisis, Wakatobi's owners and management team instead decided to create a proactive plan to weather the crises
With no firm date for reopening in sight, and no guest revenue to offset operating expenses, Wakatobi's team knew that keeping the lights on would require both strategic planning and economic sacrifice. As the last guests departed in March 2020, the plans were put in place.
One of the top priorities during the coronavirus shutdown remained the welfare of the people and communities that depend on Wakatobi for much-needed revenue. Rather than furloughing local staff and guides, the owners and managers chose to provide rotating part-time employment for some 160 local workers, made payments to those for whom there was no work, and continued to pay health insurance costs and contribute to the pension fund for all.
In Wakatobi, the welfare of the people and the health of the reefs have always been closely connected. Therefore, equally important as providing support for local communities was a commitment to conservation. Wakatobi has continued to fund reef patrols, social programs, and signature lease payments to local villages in exchange for honouring the no-take marine zones.
These actions saved 20 jobs, provided much-needed funds to villagers and ensured that the surrounding reefs remain protected and pristine. Compliance with the regulations within the marine sanctuaries remains high despite the absence of tourism, and the locals are able to help monitor the reefs while respecting all of the no-take areas. A small team stayed on at the resort, including resort founder Lorenz Mäder, and they continue to monitor and patrol the reefs, maintain old moorings and install new ones.
Mäder has reported that the reefs remain in prime condition, with waters currently about 2 degrees cooler than in the previous El Niño years, providing favourable conditions that have allowed the corals to thrive.' The revitalization has reportedly been especially apparent in areas that had suffered damage prior to the establishment of Wakatobi's marine reserve, and has led to an increase in larger marine life sightings at deeper depths. At least five new dive sites will be added to the daily dive and snorkel itineraries once the resort reopens.
Together with the constant reef patrols and environmental inspection, the team has also been engaged in maintenance and improvements of the resort and the dive operation. The team reports that all of the dive boats have been refurbished, the jetty has been widened and smoothed and the rest of the resort has seen a number of significant repairs and improvements.
Check out Wakatobi's YouTube Channel to see some fantastic videos from the reefs of Southeast Sulawesi. For an in-depth, behind-the-scenes report on Wakatobi's conservation efforts in the region, read Mark 'Crowley' Russell's interview with Wakatobi's founder, Lorenz Mäder, from the Autumn 2018 print issue of DIVE, about how his work over the last 25 years has helped to sustain both the local reefs and the local village: Wakatobi - the Business of Conservation.