Ecotourism in Indonesia: How to Travel Responsibly

With increasing numbers of tourists visiting Indonesia, the impact to the environment and locals is sadly being shown in a number of areas. We take a look at the issues and ways you can make a positive impact as a traveler.


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*Trigger warning – This article discusses animal cruelty.

Overtourism in Indonesia

Indonesia, particularly Bali, has been a popular tourist destination for decades and it’s no surprise with all the amazing volcanic landscapes, diverse marine life, and deep jungles the country offers. The problem is, many of these places are being exploited by travelers.

Around 14 million travelers visited the archipelago nation in 2017, an increase of 12% on the previous year. Nearly 5 million visited Bali alone in 2016, and with changes to visa procedures for 169 countries by the Indonesian government, there appears to be no sign of it slowing down. There's currently the target for 20 million foreign travelers by 2019.

While mass tourism does have a positive impact for locals and the government economically, it has a negative impact on the environment and this has been an increasing concern over the past decade. The impacts of overcrowded beaches and attractions, poor waste management, pollution and poor development practices are starting to become more noticeable - particularly in Bali with images of beaches heavily scattered with rubbish, scuba diving spots choked with plastic and increased traffic.

Rubbish on a Bali beach. Photo credit: Santos

Bali is also facing another crisis in the form of decreasing groundwater supply, which is estimated to be at 20%.

With the thousands of hotels, restaurants, households and other establishments using water (in addition to local rice farms), scientists have estimated that water supplies will run dry by 2020. 60% of Bali’s water is used by the tourism industry. Initiatives are now being put in place to secure Bali’s future water.

Animal tourism concerns

In several Southeast Asian countries including Indonesia, there are many places where animals are used to entice travelers to spend money, from photo opportunities, to attractions and even food. However, this is a part of tourism’s more sinister side, with many of those animals being abused and forced against their will in the name of the tourist dollar.

Animal selfies

Littered throughout social media, there are photos of people posing with animals while on holidays. People think it’s cute and cool to get a photo with animals like monkeys, tigers, iguanas, slow loris and many more, but little do they know these animals are used and abused for financial gain.

There are several facilities in Indonesia which have photo opportunities with turtles, such as Turtle Island on Nusa Dua. Avoid these as many turtles suffer from being dropped or injured and are kept in small barren enclosures.

Monkey forest in Ubud. Photo credit:

Animals for entertainment

Animals such as dolphins are kept in harmful conditions and forced to perform tricks to please audiences, or as an interactive experience. Anytime you buy a ticket to attractions like this, your money is funding the continued cruelty of these animals. Dolphins are highly intelligent and social beings which belong in a pod, not alone in a tiny tank.

Horse-drawn carriages are found throughout Bali and while it may seem romantic to take one through the streets, the horses suffer as a result of being out in the heat, the traffic noise, pollution, heavy loads and more. They also often don’t get enough food and water. Choose to walk or catch another mode of transport to get around town.

Elephant rides

Many elephants are captured illegally from the wild, only to have their spirits broken into submission by their owner and to be treated poorly or abused behind the scenes.

Babies are often taken from their mothers and placed into confinement. These majestic giants don’t need us on their backs. Riding an elephant also damages their spine, as they're not built to carry weight on their backs despite their size. 

Elephant with riding gear attached. Photo credit:

Think before you eat

If the menu isn’t in English, ask what's in the meal. You may be getting served up dog or turtle.

Indonesia also contributes to the global problem of shark finning, and while fins may be sent offshore due to their high value, there's a chance you may be eating shark meat, including meat from an endangered species. So avoid restaurants serving up man’s best friend or other animals.

Animal-based souvenirs

Never buy any souvenirs made from animal parts. You could be buying something made from a rare, protected or illegally trafficked species. 

Tortoiseshell and other turtle products

Turtle populations across the world are under pressure from the impacts of climate change, fishing, urban development, pollution and poaching. Unsurprisingly, tortoiseshell comes from the shell of a turtle, and Hawksbill turtles are highly prized due to the colour and pattern of their shell - leaving them critically endangered.

Despite a worldwide ban on tortoiseshell, stockpiles still exist in some countries and there is a clandestine tortoiseshell trade in Indonesia.

Hawksbill turtle. Photo credit:

Shells and coral

It's estimated that by 2050, there'll be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

The impact of plastic is affecting all levels of the marine ecosystem, with images of crabs using bottle caps and other plastic debris as shells, rather than a natural shell. So if you see a shell on the beach or while you're in the ocean, leave it where it is.

The continual push for the harvesting of shells due to their size, shape and beauty is resulting in the snails (which live within) being removed while alive, leaving them homeless and eventually dead.

Triton’s Trumpet is thought to be moving towards extinction and these amazing snails are one of the few natural predators of the Crown of Thorns Starfish. Reefs within the Indo-Pacific region have been damaged by occasional starfish outbreaks, which can cause significant damage within a few days.

In terms of corals, there's also no way to accurately tell if it's been washed up or deliberately broken off a reef. Corals are the living framework of our reef systems, providing food and homes for many other ocean creatures.

With the impact of climate change, warming the oceans and acidification, we need corals to be left in the ocean; so avoid buying that coral ornament or jewelry.

Eat, stay and tour locally

It’s estimated that 85% of tourism businesses in Bali are owned by non-Balinese operators. So eat at street vendors to experience regional food, or support local eateries including those which provide staff skill initiatives.

Stay in locally-run accommodation rather than big hotels. Many local hostels are environmentally friendly, and the owners will provide you with local insights.

Choose eco-friendly tour packages which don’t exploit animals or people and give back to the local community. Do your research and ask questions, those who operate ethically will have no hesitation to provide information.

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