The seas around Raja Ampat Isles are home to the richest varieties of species in the world, including 75 percent of all known coral species.Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The stunning natural beauty of Raja Ampat isles located in the northwestern tip of the Indonesian province of West Papua, has started to attract domestic and foreign tourists.
Lured by this beauty of Raja Ampat, President Joko Widodo and First Lady Iriana spent the last day of 2015 and the first day of 2016 there.
They preferred to spend their time in the lap of nature, free from the cacophony of the city and pollution as they welcomed the new year.
On the New Years Eve, Jokowi, as the president is popularly called, accompanied by Tourism Minister Arief Yahya, Head of the Presidential Office Staff Teten Masduki and West Papua Governor Abraham Octavianus Atururi, was on the Waisai beach, Raja Ampat District.
The next morning, Jokowi and Iriana visited Pianemu Bay in the same district to enjoy the amazing natural scenery that combines crystal-clear sea waters and hundreds of isles as well as hills covered by green vegetation and virgin forests.
The head of state and his entourage departed from Waiwo Pier in Waisai Sub-district aboard a speedboat on a 1.5 hour long ride.
After arriving in Pianemu, Jokowi scaled 300 steps to reach a hilltop to witness the string of green isles scattered across the bays clear waters.
Raja Ampat, which literally means "Four Kings," is located in the Coral Triangle, the heart of the worlds coral reef biodiversity.
The seas around Raja Ampat Isles are home to the richest varieties of species in the world, including 75 percent of all known coral species.
The Raja Ampat archipelago encompasses 15 thousand square miles of land and sea. There are around 1.8 thousand isles in Raja Ampat District.
Its four major islands --- Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati and Misool --- shelter a vast array of terrestrial species and valuable forests.
The region includes the Pacifics most important Leatherback Turtle nesting site, the Nature Conservancy writes on its website.
Offshore reefs protect some 1,427 species of fish and more than 550 species of coral.
Some of these reefs have proven to be particularly resilient, and include coral-building resources that help sustain the entire Coral Triangle.
The central government has designated Raja Ampat as one of Indonesias new 10 top tourist destinations, apart from the most famous Bali Island.
President Jokowi expressed his optimism that Indonesia would be able to achieve the target of attracting 20 million tourists by 2019.
He compared Indonesia to some neighboring countries having lesser tourist attractions but which could attract 24 million to 27 million tourists annually.
In 2013, Indonesia received 8.8 million tourists, and the number increased to 9.4 million in 2014. The government set a target of attracting 12 million tourists in 2015.
"We have 10 top tourist destinations. So under no circumstances is it possible that the target of achieving 20 million would be missed," President Jokowi said while enjoying his stay in Raja Ampat, on January 1, 2016.
"That is easy. Raja Ampat and Labuhan Bajo, with their Komodo dragons, are already well known. Their nature is unique, and while the forests there are not that vast, the vegetation is unique. Which country in the world has Komodo (but Indonesia)?" he pointed out.
He affirmed that airports, piers, and ships were needed to access Raja Ampat and Labuhan Bajo in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT).
Ships are needed to access islands, otherwise the costs would be very high, he added.
However, Jokowi noted that a quota should be set on the number of tourists allowed to visit in order to protect the forests and seas from damage.
Considering the unexploited potential of Raja Ampat, the West Papua Provincial administration has planned to propose that the district may change its status and become a separate province that will be specially designated for tourism in Indonesia.
The West Papua Provincial administration will submit a proposal in this regard to the central government, Deputy Governor of West Papua Irene Manibui said recently.
The idea to turn it into a special tourism province was discussed by the West Papua authorities with members of the Commission II of the House of Representatives (DPR) in Sorong, West Papua, recently.
The legislators advised the West Papua authorities to submit the proposal to the Central Government.
They suggested that the Raja Ampat Islands District be developed into a new autonomous region with a special status.
"Like Batam Authorities, Kepra (Raja Ampat Islands) can be specially designed as a touristic province," the deputy governor stated.
The proposed tourism province will comprise 615 big and small islands, currently within the territories of the West Papua administration.
The West Papua authorities will also propose establishment of a new Southwest Papua province, the Manokwari municipality and some other districts.
She hoped that the government will realize 10 new autonomous regions in West Papua in early 2016 or by mid-year.(*)