Michael Sullivan for NPR
What is it like for adventure tourism? A close encounter with a ten-meter-long lizard with razor-sharp teeth and a poisonous bite from a mouth floating with harmful bacteria.
You can be in the Komodo National Park in the Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara about an hour's flight east from Bali. This is one of the areas the central government aimed to create "10 new Balis" to achieve its goal of bringing 20 million tourists to Indonesia this year – 5 million more than last year.
But local authorities and conservationists warn that Bali, which has seen 5 million tourists last year alone – about a third of Indonesia's total – may not be an ideal model. They argue that over-tourism could jeopardize the well-being of the park's diverse wildlife, including the komodo dragon, which is considered endangered species.
The park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 29 islands, is home to some 5,500 komodo dragons, the largest lizard species in the world, and typically weighs about 150 pounds.
"They are carnivores and eat every kind of meat," says Agus, a park ranger who, like many Indonesians, has a name. "Monkey, deer, wild boar, water buffalo, even the young, the young Komodo."
They are also known to occasionally look up people, which is why rangers carry a long, forked staff when carrying them. They guide visitors on walks on the islands of Komodo and Rinca, where most of the park's Komodo dragons live , The foresters use the staff to immobilize the animal's head from behind.
"Sometimes it works, sometimes not," says Ramli, another forester. "That's why I went up the tree several times."
The stick is trained a few times a week, he says. "But I'll take care of everyone, trust me," he adds. "I will save you until the end of the hike."
Michael Sullivan for NPR
However, the lizards lolling at the Ranger Station on Komodo Island before the show look like somewhat bored refugees from Jurassic Park. Her eyes are barely open. And they do not move. Ever.
Do not be fooled, says Ramli. You can strike fast. And her saliva packs a bunch. "One bite, that's enough," says Ramli. "They have bacteria in their saliva, there are about 60 kinds of bacteria, and they have a poison, so this stuff will tear down the loot." They bite and then follow their prey leisurely until it tips over.
The Threat of Tourism
A handful of islands in the park and on the Indonesian island of Flores are the only places in the world to see Komodo dragons in the wild. That's a big selling point. The central government wants 500,000 tourists to come to Labuan Bajo, the gateway to the Komodo National Park on Flores. That's about twice as many as last year.
In addition to Komodo dragons, there are many other wildlife in the park. "Buffalo, deer, wild boar and many species of birds," says Ramli. "And many types of snakes – spitting cobras, russels vipers, green vipers and blue vipers, and all these animals are wild, so everything is unpredictable."
The park also offers some of the best diving in Indonesia, if not the world. Among the corals, divers see white and blacktip reef sharks, manta rays, blue spotted rays, marble skate, squid, jellyfish, wrasse, puffer fish and more. "I expected it to be amazing," says Allison Place, a tourist from New Jersey as she rests on a boat between dives. "I do not think I expected it to be so amazing."
Michael Sullivan for NPR
But the place could be threatened, critics warn, if the government continues its plan to greatly increase the number of visitors. Some rangers say that there are already too many tourists. Ramli says more cruise liners are coming today than a year ago, and each brought between 500 and 1,200 people.
"If a cruise ship [s] brings many people like this," he says, "they will not see a komodo, they will not see anything, because the dragon [s] is stressed out, they are afraid of people when there are too many . "
The Challenges of Sustainability Tourism
" I agree with the foresters, "says Theresia Primadona Rasmon, who is the tourist office in Labuan Bajo, where the government has built a new airport to accommodate the hopes of the new arrivals.  There are discussions with international flights from Singapore, Malaysia and even China. This has worried many residents. Rasmon wants a concrete plan to regulate the number of visitors to the park – a project that is already working with local officials, the World Wildlife Fund and green businesses.
A World Wildlife Fund study from 2018 shows that the Komodo National Park is capable of handling about 150,000 divers and a further 170,000 land-based visitors per year if properly managed, says Indarwati Aminuddin, WWF's Marine Tourism Manager. This is far below the government target of 500,000 visitors.
"We truly hope that the national government and local government can work together to create a comprehensive plan for the long-term management of Komodo Park," Aminuddin said via email. Indonesia is not the only Southeast Asian nation struggling with sustainable tourism and trying to reconcile income needs with environmental protection.
The Philippines have blocked the island of Boracay for tourists for six months last year and have now set limits on the number of arrivals The Mayan Bay of Thailand, made famous by the film Leonardo DiCaprio of 2000 The Beach, was closed last year after thousands of tourists and the boats carrying heavily damaged coral reefs. Now the Thai government is considering keeping the bay closed until the corals are restored and the fish comes back – or at least severely limit the number of boats and tourists.
Some of the "sensitive areas" of the Komodo National Park, in particular Aminuddin says, "high tourist traffic", should apply the open-close system to visitors, no need to open 12 months. With the open-close system, we can give the ecosystem time to recover after a tourism disruption. "Such a system would allow some overburdened areas of the park to recover for a few months while others remain open to tourists – rather than leaving the park open all year round.
The provincial governor has spoken about closing the park One year to increase the population of the Komodo Dragon, but the central government will not hear of it, in January Arief Yahya, Tourism Minister, dismissed the idea as "irrelevant" and said it would disrupt travel agents.
Wayan, a Instructors from Bali, who moved to Labuan Bajo a few years ago to escape Bali's crowds, believe that tourism will increase. Strengthening the local economy will only lead to short-term gains.
"We can spend a year or two but after that [will] everything gets worse, "he says." Coral break, fish gone, Komodo goes away. No fish, no manta, no komodo, no money. That's what I think. "
Local tourist officer Rasmon warns that this area should not become another Bali." Komodo is unique, unlike any other destination in Indonesia or the world, "she says Central government, she says, has a responsibility to preserve it.