Eight speedboats, each loaded with three or four passengers, slowly left the Lanjak dock early in the morning on 28 February, 2017. The touring group included 13 passengers from Malaysia, and a large team from the WWF-Indonesia West Kalimantan Program. The group from Malaysia included indigenous peoples, members of Malaysian Government and small team from WWF Malaysia.  

The cross border visit had been organised by WWF to showcase a range of successful green economies developed in the riverside hamlets of Meliau and Empangau, which are part of the Kapuas Hulu district in West Kalimantan. The touring group would reach Meliau via a scenic trip down the Leboyan River and across Lake Sentarum. 

Lake Sentarum is an ancient lake and its catchment system forms the largest flood plain in Asia. Despite the history and scale of the region, the touring group were content to enjoy the views of the rocky ridges surrounding the lake, which were shining like gold in the morning sun light.  

After traveling for two hours, the touring group arrived in Meliau Hamlet and were greeted leisurely by local Iban residents. There was no typical Iban welcome ceremony, as the residents were still mourning the loss of a Meliau elder.   Nevertheless, the Iban still provided warm hospitality and typical snacks of corn, sticky rice and fruit.  

The Meliau hamlet is part of the Melemba Village, which is home to approximately 335 people across 26,186 hectares.  Originally, the villagers were mostly fishermen, but they have now developed new industries based on non-timber forest products, such as honey, Rattan and Pandan Laut stems (for making mats). The hamlet settlement consists of one longhouse, a few individual houses, a church and a primary school.  The river catchment area surrounding Meliau consists of a peat forest ecosystem, which is a habitat for endangered species such as Orang Utans, Gibbons, Proboscis Monkeys and Hornbills.  

Once the guests had settled into their new long house accommodation, Hermas Rintik Maring (WWF-Indonesia) introduced the local eco-tourism group (KPP) to the touring group, before leading a tour of the hamlet.   


Late afternoon, the journey continued to the very picturesque and popular Merebung Lake. The 46 hectare lake is one of 15 lakes that form part of Melemba Village, and the lake is strictly protected under traditional customary law. 

The touring group travelled to Merebung Lake by motorized dugout, which is the main form of transport in the area.  During the first 10 minutes, the motorized canoes cruised along Leboyan River, quickly leaving the Meliau Hamlet behind.  The expert tour guides then left the river and steered the dugouts into a swamp forest.  On entering the swamp forest the brown river water turned black, which is a common characteristic of a peat swamp forest. The swamp forest belongs to a forest type called Rampak Gelagah, which includes water resistant trees and shrubs that stand between 5-8 metres.  The swamp forest can contain 5.5 metres of water for up to 11 months of the year.  

The guides moved the canoes carefully to avoid the hanging tree tendrils, and pointed out old Orang Utans nests amongst the trees.   The touring group were increasingly enjoying the trip to Merebung Lake.  

Back on the river, the vegetation begins to differ. The vegetation consists of trees between 8-15 metres, which regularly live in 3.5 metres of water. The touring group paddled their canoes to enjoy the bird life, and discussed forest fire which is common during the dry season. 

The touring group were greeted by floating houses on the beautiful, painted black water of Merebung Lake.  Some of the touring group threw themselves into the lake and enjoyed the shock of the icy cold water beneath the warm surface.  Others tried to catch fish with nets, or relaxed and enjoyed the view. 

Early in the evening, the touring group left the floating house in Merebung Lake and returned to Meliau Hamlet. On the way the group enjoyed watching fishermen use various types of fishing gear such as nets, fishing rods, Bubu and Temilar.  Bubu are a tube-shaped fish trap for catching small fish, while Temilar are a cube-shaped fish trap for catching bigger fish. 


The touring group returned to their homestay lodge to shower and rest. The clean water in Meliau longhouse is piped from Bukit Peninjau using a system provided by WWF-Indonesia, West Kalimantan Program. The community now enjoys clean water without having to go down to the river. 

After a typical Meliau dinner, consisting of various kinds of fish, the touring group relaxed with the families of the Meliau longhouse. 

The discussion session that followed was moderated by Jimmy Syahirsyah, Technical Support Manager of WWF-Indonesia West Kalimantan Program, and translated by Sodik Asmoro, the chairman of KPP.  

Sodik explained the ecotourism activities in Meliau and the history of the KPP in Melemba village.  The discussion included landscapes, biological diversity, culture, community activities, freshwater fish potential, ecotourism, tourism attractions, tourism development, impacts of ecotourism and government support.  

The touring group began to appreciate the unique characteristics of the local Iban community, which has developed due to the geographical isolation created by the network of rivers and lakes. The touring group also began to appreciate the potential to develop a green economy based on biodiversity, culture and fish.  

The Meliau Hamlet follows customary law, which the locals believe generates sustainable communities. The hamlet used customary law to establish protected areas, such as Merebung Lake, long before the lake was protected by the formal regulations (Perdes) of Melemba Village.  

Customary law does not allow fishermen use bait such as crickets, cockroaches and frogs, as this bait is highly favoured by the protected Arowana fish.  Similarly, customary law governs the size of nets to ensure young fish, less than 2 – 3 kg, are left to grow and breed.  Offenders who are caught ignoring customary law can be banned from fishing for up to three years.  This sanction is the most feared by local fishermen.  

The local community has developed industries around selling salted fish and Pandan products (mats, purses and handbags).   The Pandan products are mostly sold as souvenirs to tourists who visit the longhouse. The weaving skills are passed from generation to generation, and the historical Iban designs are considered works of high value. 

In 2010 residents of Meliau made a commitment to develop their region into a nature tourism destination and they developed the KPP. In 2012, the eco-tourism venture received financial support from the Central Government of Indonesia.  

To date ecotourism is generating income from canoe rental services, homestay accommodation and food consumption.  According to Hermas Rintik Maring, ecotourism is changing attitudes towards the environment.  Locals now guard the environment as they see it as a new resource to maintain stable economic life for the community. 


The morning blanket was still wrapped around Meliau when the touring group left the hamlet and began the trip to Empangau Protected Lake.  The three hour journey took the group down the Leboyan River, across Vega Lake and onto the Kapuas River. The touring group passed the time photographing trees, wildlife and the daily activities of the local communities. 

The touring group were greeted at Empangau by local residents and community leaders.  The welcome party included a customary meal of freshwater fish, including the distinctive Seladang (fish) sour and spicy soup. 

The local fishing community were busy restocking the protected lake with super red Arowana fish, the most expensive ornamental freshwater fish in the world, and the pride of Kapuas Hulu.  A re-stocking ceremony, conducted by AM Nasir, the Head of Kapuas Hulu District, and Mrs. Nasir, included the release of 10 super red Arowana.  The Head of Kapuas Hulu District highlighted the importance of protecting Arowana habitat, as Mr Nasir believes that Arowana, in its natural habitat, could be the basis of an important ecotourism industry.   The re-stocking ceremony was attended by hundreds of people who dressed in traditional costumes, both Malay and Dayak, danced and paraded decorated boats.  

In the afternoon, the touring group made a 40 minute trip around Empangau Protected Lake to observe conservation efforts, and learn about the management of the lake.  Following the tour, the group were treated to soggy fish crackers, a typical snack of Kapuas Hulu, and a presentation by Agus, the Chairman of the Empangau Protected Lake.  Agus explained that the lake was protected in 1989 by customary law, once the locals noticed that the annual fish catch began to fall.  A management group was formed to introduce fishing zones and develop a re-stocking policy.  Currently the average fisherman catches between 15-20 kg per day during the rainy season, and over a hundred kilograms per day in the dry season.  

Empangau Protected Lake has provided substantial benefits to the environment and is an important resource for the self-sufficiency of the local community.   The management of the lake has saved the Arowana, which was almost extinct from Empangau Lake. The protected environment has also restored populations of other fish such as Toman, Jelawat, Ringau, Tengadak, Baung, and Entukan. 


After dinner together, the Head of Empangau Village, Joni Karyadi explained that rubber cultivation and fishing support the village of over 2,100 people.  Joni described Empangau Protected Lake as a fresh water peat swamp ecosystem (kerapa), connected to a vast swamp forest ecosystem along the Kapuas River and Lake Sentarum. The expanse of swamp forest forms a buffer against incoming tides from the Kapuas River, and provides a reservoir of water during the dry season. The relatively reliable water in the Kapuas River supports the population of local fresh water species.  The cold, dark water is home to edible fish such as Toman, Jelawat, Baung, and ornamental fish like Arowana and Siluk. 

The forest around the lake provides habitat to several endangered species such as the Orang Utan, Proboscis Monkey and Tingang (Hornbill). The forest supports colonies of bees (Apis dorsata), which are utilised by locals for honey, and a range of unique plants such as Putat (Barringtonia acutangula), Tempurau (Dipterocarpus sp.), Purik (Mitragyna speciosa), Raba (Buchanania arborescens) and Bungur (Lagerstroemia speciosa). 

The various fruits and seeds of the forest provide natural food for fish, and help keep fish stock densities at approximately 1,600 fish per hectare.   The local community now harvests 8-10 tonnes of consumption fish, and 100-120 expensive Arowana fingerlings per year. A percentage of the fish harvest is kept as village income (Penghasilan Asli Desa or PAD) to finance village needs.  

Joni explained that the community had formed a management group to manage Empangau Protected Lake. Successful management of the Empangau Protected Lake includes protecting key species that provide direct economic benefits, and maintaining institutions and social capital, such as local wisdom and custom. The community in Empangau Village has a long tradition of using customary law, which is revised every year to acknowledge local development. The management group receives direction and supports from the Village Government, Department of Fisheries, Department of Plantation and Forestry, Department of Tourism and environmental organizations such as WWF Indonesia. 

The regulation of Empangau Protected Lake includes activity zoning, catchment protection, community empowerment, harvest sharing agreements, prohibited activities and sanctions. The activity zones are divided into an economic zone, a community zone and a protected zone.  The economic zone can be utilised to benefit individuals, the community zone is managed for the common need of the community, and the protected zone can only be used at certain times to harvest Arowana or Siluk. 

In addition to the activity zones, fishing gear and fishing methods are also regulated based on the status of the protected area. People who use fishing gear and fishing practices that damage the environment can receive severe punishments, including a lifetime ban on fishing. To ensure the regulations are clear, a guidebook called “Perturan Rukun Nelayan Desa Empangau (Regulation of Fishermen Group of Empangau Village)” is being drafted. 

The supervision of the regulation system is led by the management group, but it also includes community leaders, religious leaders, traditional leaders, women’s groups and youth. 

Thanks to the commitment and consistency of Empangau fishing communities, several awards have been given to the management of Empangau Protected Lake. Awards have come from the District Head of Kapuas Hulu, the Governor of West Kalimantan, the Department of Marine and Fisheries of West Kalimantan and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. 

Joni admitted that the local community had not prepared a management plan for ecotourism, and the fishing community was concerned that ecotourism may disturb the protected lake.  

The touring group left Empangau village on 2 March, and made their way to Putussibau via the Kapuas River.   The cross border touring group had learned many things about developing green economies, which were directly applicable to similar regions across Kapaus Hulu and Sarawak.