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An Auction of 100 Indonesian Islands Has Been Delayed After Backlash From Environmentalists

The Widi Reserve was supposed to be sold earlier this month, but the sale has been pushed to late January.

An island in Indonesia Unsplash

If you were hoping to be the owner of some Indonesian islands, you might have to wait a bit longer.

A Sotheby’s auction for the exclusive licensed rights to the Widi Reserve has been delayed, The Washington Post reported on Sunday. Originally scheduled to begin on December 8, the sale has been moved to late January. While the auction house maintains that the date change is due to extreme interest in the islands, environmental groups have voiced concern about the sale.

The Widi Reserve is composed of more than 100 environmentally protected islands across 25,000 acres in Indonesia. Its surrounding area, known as the “Coral Triangle,” encompasses several endangered species such as sea turtles, humphead wrasse and whale sharks. Environmentalists worry that with the privatization and development of the land, ecological damage could occur and life in coastal communities might suffer.

“We firmly believe there is no such thing as ‘sustainable development’ on reserves and that the best way to preserve them is just to let them be,” said Afdillah, the ocean campaign team leader at Greenpeace Indonesia. The auction is “a serious violation of the rights of coastal communities and traditional fishermen who live around the reserve.”

In the listing for the islands, Sotheby’s notes that possible amenities could include an airstrip for private jets, luxury eco-resorts and an international airport. The company managing the islands, PT Leadership Islands Indonesia, told the Post that it’s been working with the Indonesian government on the project since 2014 and that it has acquired various permits and permissions needed for the auction. However, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries said in a statement earlier this month that the company had not obtained the proper licenses.

Still, Sotheby’s told The Washington Post that the delay was meant “to allow more time for interested buyers to work through due diligence.” And a spokesperson for PT Leadership Islands Indonesia said that less than 0.005 percent of the reserve would be developed. “Large-scale conservation is at the heart of the company’s vision and drive,” the spokesperson said.

That hasn’t calmed the nerves of environmentalists, though, who still worry about the reserve and the concept of eco-tourism more generally.

“Sustainable tourism is a discourse. We just talk about it, but we don’t implement it,” one local activist told the Post. “There is no evidence of sustainable tourism in Indonesia.”

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