The development rights for an Indonesian archipelago will be sold to the highest bidder in an auction in a few weeks. Some conservationists are not happy about the sale, and worry it could open up the "pristine" area to more environmental dangers.
The auction for development rights in Widi Reserve is set to kick off on December 8 and will conclude on December 14 live at Sotheby’s auction house in New York, according to the listing on Sotheby’s Concierge Auctions website. There’s no word yet on how much the rights could sell for, but potential buyers need to put down a deposit of $100,000.
Sotheby’s explains that the Widi Reserve is located in the heart of East Indonesia’s Coral Triangle and encompasses over 100 “uninhabited, pristine tropical islands fringed by 150 kilometers [93.2 miles] of powder white sand beaches, thriving coral reefs, and private, deep-sea, nutrient-rich waters.” It is also home to numerous rare and endangered animal species, including blue whales and whale sharks.
The winner of the auction will acquire interests in a holding company called PT Leadership Islands Indonesia (LII). This is because Indonesian law doesn’t allow the sale of islands, but people are allowed to buy shares in a business with exclusive development rights to certain areas. This means the islands can’t be privately owned by any individual per se, but one person could possess the sole right to build there.
“Every billionaire can own a private island; but only one can own this exclusive opportunity spread across 100+ islands”, Charlie Smith, Sotheby’s Concierge Auctions’ Executive Vice President, EMEA, said in a statement.
“We’re presenting a prime opportunity for any discerning buyer in the world to participate in the conservation and development of one of the most pristine areas on earth – all available for your bid price", added Smith.
The listing suggests that the development rights could be used to build an “eco-resort” and luxury residential properties across 17 islands of the reserve.
While there’s much talk of conservation and sustainability, the auction has sparked some concern among environmentalists in Indonesia who fear it could bring worrying changes to this untouched pocket of the country.
“How can it be guaranteed that these islands will not be exploited for tourism activities? And how about access for the local communities after the islands become privately owned?” local environmentalist Iwan Sofiawan told The Guardian.
“Fishing spots for fishermen that have been used for generations will be limited”, added Mohamad Abdi Suhufan, national coordinator at Destructive Fishing Watch Indonesia. “The social impact of this plan will offset the environmental benefits. Currently, the government is aggressively attracting foreign investment to obtain state revenue. No rules should be changed to pass this plan.”