Indonesia has cancelled plans to close its popular Komodo Island to tourists but authorities have announced a new annual membership fee to limit the number of visitors.

Portrait of a komodo dragon on beach, Komodo Island, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesi
Visitors to Komodo Island may have to pay an annual membership fee ©jeffysurianto via Getty

Earlier this year, it was announced that Indonesia would close Komodo Island (home to Jurassic-like Komodo 'dragons') to tourists for a year from January 2020. There were fears that the dragon population had diminished. The closure was meant to protect the natural behaviour of the island's lizards and give them 12 months of breathing space to mate and hatch eggs in peace. On Monday, however, it was announced those plans had been scrapped. Reuters reports that Siti Nurbaya Bakar, Indonesia’s environment and forestry minister, said the closure had been cancelled after it was discovered that there was no threat of a decline in Komodo dragons on the island from tourism or illegal poaching.

Two komodo dragons embracing each other during a fight
Two komodo dragons embracing each other during a fight ©Jakob Polacsek via Getty

According to government figures 1727 Komodo dragons live on the island and it's the only place on the planet where people can view the giant lizards in their natural habitat. “[The number of] Komodo dragons on Komodo island during 2002 to 2019 observations has been relatively stable,” Bakar told Reuters. "There is no threat of a decline." Based on the result from the Komodo population monitoring by the Komodo National Park Centre and Komodo Survival Programme (KSP), it was found that over the past five years, the Komodo population had fluctuated between 2400-3000. It was found that the presence of visitors in the designated tourism area within the Komodo National Park is not a factor in the decrease of the population.

Blending light of sunset at Padar Island, Komodo National Park
Sunset at Padar Island, Komodo National Park ©Afriandi via Getty

While the island will remain open, it may still be out of reach for many tourists. Authorities have planned to introduce a $1000 (£814) annual membership fee, essentially an admission fee, for those who wish to visit. The fee would allow repeat visits in one year. State-run news agency Antara reports that there might be a two-tier membership. Premium members will be allowed to visit Komodo Island, while non-premium members will be able to visit other islands in the Komodo national park, where dragons also live.

Details are still being worked out. According to the BBC, in 2018, 176,000 people visited Komodo, up from 44,000 people in 2008. Currently, those tourists pay around $10 (£8) to enter the island.

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