I am supervising an MSc student in Ecological Economics at the University of Edinburgh who is researching the impact of surf tourism on the Mentawai Islands. In particular she is interested in the importance of the environment to surfers who have visited or plan to visit. She has a short survey here:
It would be great if if anyone who is interested could complete the survey. I would be happy to answer any questions.
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From an environmental perspective IMHO the foot print of surfing tourism in Mentawais is pretty small most of it has actually been done pretty tastefully, almost all resort/camps/losmens are timber built with minimal disturbances to landscape, built in among coconut palms well behind the high tide line, not a concrete jungle like Nias or no obtrusive over water designs like Maldives (although there should be laws/regulation to curb/restrict further development)
Traditional Mentawai uma design has actually been embraced by the industry from resorts to losmens, not a fan of the bigger resorts but still hats off to Kandui resort they were the first to use this design and 99% of budget places have copied as have some other resorts.
It should also be noted almost all the small island much of it is not natural vegetation bar mangroves, coconut groves have been planted for farming and even much of the jungle on the smaller inner islands like Nyang Nyang is not original jungle and have been planted randomly with species that they can use. ( bigger main islands much different and smaller islands down south)
I think the biggest issues would be waste disposal that's a big issue its not viable to send back to Padang where it will be burned and buried, so only option is for places to burn and bury themselves.
Damage to reefs from anchorage is another issue especially for bigger boats.
And possibly even sunscreen affecting coral?
Also the risk of fuel spillage is always there.
But there is also positive environmental benefits from development and surfers presence, most notably the deterrence of dynamite fishing, when there is resorts and people around this is much less likely to happen, there has also been aspects of traditional Mentawai culture that has been given more value by resorts with demonstrations/dance and just embracing traditional design, even tattoo and art design, you even see the younger Mentawai grommets embracing all this traditional Mentawai culture.
BTW. the biggest development happening in the Mentawais is on the island of Sipora, the development there is moving at a crazy pace, 15 years ago Tua Pejat was a tiny port town with basically nothing and a 4WD like track going out of town, now its a proper Indonesian town, all kinds of shops, places to eat, bank with ATM and the road going out of town is wide and well made and goes all the way to Sioban, there is all kinds of government buildings, a hospital, big police station, schools etc even a big solar farm, the population and housing development going down this road is huge and it's growing every year from population increase from people from mainland Sumatra moving here as cheap land (for them inland far from waves) also lots of jungle being cleared for farming mostly things like Banana plantations, chocolate, cloves but even seen rice paddies.
So in reality the majority of development in Mentawai's is not fuelled by surf tourism only area it really is, is in playgrounds /south Siberut area and Awera Island area near Tua Pajet and then Katiet at HT's
IMHO the biggest issue in the Mentawais in regard to surf tourism is charter boats, they are pretty much pointless for Mentawai people/government in that they bring more crowds but bring close to zero benefit to the Mentawai economy as buy 90-99% of their fuel and food in Padang and most employees are from Padang.
They are also much more destructive to reefs when anchor than smaller boats as have have anchors with electric winches, not unusual to pull up anchor and have a big chunk of coral on the anchor.
In an ideal world the Mentawai government would restrict and cap numbers of charter boats with an aim to reduce numbers long term to below 20 boats ideally 10 or less, and also ban commercial charter boat operators from the Telescopes and playground areas where there is now countless resorts/camps/losmens and restrict them to HT's and further south, if this was done now, numbers would also drop as competition would become higher.
Wont happen though because government and business in Padang have too much to lose as that is where charter boats buy 99% of fuel and food and guest often stay a night etc
Hopefully this Covid-19 thing will knock a few out though.
PS. I put my contact details in the survey (email has wife name Zita in it), happy to answer other questions or can recommend people to talk too in Mentawai's foreigners and locals, have done a season working at resort in 2008 as Manager/surf guide, half a dozen charters as a surf guide (even if I'm just an average surfer), and done first trips out to Nyang Nyang when it was still just coconut huts, no toilets, and kero lamps only, also have had a non commercial property out there for over ten years. (although havent spent much time there in recent years)