A photo book competition was hatched by the governor to share the beauty of Alor Island with the world. (JG Photos/Sylviana Hamdani and courtesy of Muljadi Pinneng Sulungbudi)

‘Alor Underwater’ Brings Hidden Beauty to Surface

JANUARY 05, 2015

A photo book competition was hatched by the governor to share the beauty of Alor Island with the world. (JG Photos/Sylviana Hamdani and courtesy of Muljadi Pinneng Sulungbudi)

Whoever wants pearls should dare to plunge into the deep oceans,”  Indonesia’s founding father, Sukarno, famously said.

As the largest archipelagic nation in the world, Indonesia consists of a vast area of rich seas. Based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982, which was ratified into law 17 years ago, Indonesia has more than three million square kilometers of sea, or almost double the country’s land mass.

Indonesia consists of smaller archipelagos, each with its own beauty and riches.

One of these is Nusa Tenggara archipelago, divied administratively into East and West Nusa Tenggara provinces, known as NTT and NTB, respectively.

“NTT is an archipelagic province with untold beauty and riches,” says Frans Lebu Raya, the governor of East Nusa Tenggara.

The province, at the southernmost tip of the Indonesian archipelago, consists of 1,192 islands. At present, only 43 of these are inhabited, one of which, Timor, is shared with the independent nation of Timor-Leste.

The total land area of the province is 47,349 square kilometers, while its sea area is more than four times larger, at 200,000 square kilometers.

The seas there abound with oil and gas and fish stocks. High-quality pearls of various colors and viscosity also abound in the waters of East Nusa Tenggara.

“Whenever I talk in public, I always repeat these facts,” Frans says. “Many find it hard to believe.”

The province’s marine parks are also among the most scenic and unspoiled in the world.

Some 100,000 international tourists visited the province in 2014, up from 80,000 the previous year, according to the provincial administration.

To increase the number of tourists, Governor Frans held the “International Invitational Underwater Photography Competition” in Alor Island, part of the Nusa Tenggara archipelago, in September 2014.

One of the most scenic marine parks in East Nusa Tenggara is in the seas surrounding Alor.

Alor, the largest island in the province at 2,119 square kilometers, is surrounded by more than 40 pristine diving sites.

“Most of them are known only to the locals and very few international tourists,” Frans says.

Nine photographers — from Singapore, Indonesia, Japan and Taiwan — were selected as winners of the Alor photo competition, and their works were recently compiled into a coffee-table book: “Alor Underwater.”

“We want to spread the beauty of Alor to the world with this book,” Frans says.

The 100-page book has both English and Indonesian text.

The book starts off with a brief description of Alor and a map of the island that pinpoints the many interesting dive sites around it.

“The underwater world at Alor is fantastic,” says Ria Qorina Lubis, one of the winners of the photo competition.

 “The water is so clear, with visibility of more than 20 meters. There are so many colorful fish, even at nine to 10 meters deep. And the sea is so full of beautiful coral. It’s just perfect for divers.”

Ria, a Greenpeace and Ocean Defender activist has been diving and taking underwater photos since 2006. With her fellow divers, she has composed three other photo books, including “Amazing Ambon,” “Wakatobi Laut Surgawi” (“Paradise Sea of Wakatobi”) and “Dive Guide to Aceh.”

“Alor not only has a holistic underwater beauty, but also warm and friendly people, rich cultural traditions, and beautiful handwoven textiles,” Ria says.

“I want to keep coming back [to Alor].”

East Nusa Tenggara's underwater beauty. (Photo courtesy of Dewi WIlaisono)

Muljadi Pinneng Sulungbudi, another winner of the competition, rates Alor as one of the top three dive areas in Indonesia.

“Currently, the top three are Raja Ampat [in West Papua], Komodo Island [in East Nusa Tenggara] and Alor,” says Muljadi, a professional photographer and experienced diver.

“Two of them are in NTT.”

Two hundred copies of the first edition of the book have been printed and reserved for guests of the governor and potential investors in the island.

“We really appreciate the innovative ideas of the governor and the ‘Alor Underwater’ book,” says Esthy Reko Astuti, the directorate general of marketing at Indonesia’s Tourism Ministry.

“I think they’re very positive efforts to improve Indonesia’s tourism.”

President Joko Widodo has set a target for Indonesia to attract 20 million international tourists in 2019 — an ambitious target, given than the country only drew some 8.9 million international tourists in 2013.

“It’s a high target for all of us,” Esthy concedes.

“But if we’re all committed to achieving it, I believe that we can.”

The East Nusa Tenggara administration plans to publish the Alor photo book for the mass market early this year.

“By publishing the book, the governor has shown his commitment to improving the tourism industry in NTT,” Muljadi says.

“And that’s important. Usually when the number one person in the regional administration has shown his commitment to a cause, the rest of the team will follow suit.”

(Photo courtesy of Muljadi Pinneng Sulungbudi)

Muljadi, who is a native of Kupang, the provincial capital of East Nusa Tenggara, says that what is currently lacking in Alor is tourist facilities for middle-income to high-income tourists.

“There are currently a number of small inns with limited facilities at Alor,” he says.

“These humble accommodations can’t cater to the needs of middle- to high-income international tourists.”

Pinneng says he believes that the photo book will help encourage investors to set up more facilities such as hotels and restaurants, and thereby attract more tourists to the island.

Frans says he plans to hold similar competitions and publish more books to highlight other beautiful aspects of East Nusa Tenggara, including Kelimutu, a volcano on Flores Island with three stunning crater lakes, and Sumba Island with its unique culture and traditions.