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Vashon nonprofit receives conservation award for work in Indonesia

AlTo works to protect species native to the island of Sulawesi, such as this tarsier. - Courtesy Photo
AlTo works to protect species native to the island of Sulawesi, such as this tarsier.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

An Island organization was recently recognized for its grassroots efforts at conservation in one of the most biologically diverse parts of the world. Alliance for Tompotika Conservation (AlTo) received mongabay.com's 2010 Conservation Award, an award founder Marcy Summers called “a tremendous honor.”

Mongabay.com is a popular site for environmental news and rainforest information; it receives more than two million viewers each month.

“I have a lot of respect for mongabay and they work they do,” Summers said. “The people who run it are very knowledgeable. They know what’s out there. … It’s quite an honor to be judged worthy by folks like that.”

For about five years, AlTo has worked with local communities in Tompotika, a region on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, to help protect the area’s rainforests from deforestation, as well as preserve maleo birds, seat turtles, bats and other native species threatened by poaching and deforestation.

AlTo shared the award this year with the Nantu Forest Conservation Program, another organization that works on Sulawesi.

Rhett Butler, director of mongabay.com, said he hopes the award will bring attention to the two organizations’ efforts in a part of the world often overlooked by conservationists.

“Sulawesi has very high levels of endemic species. ... You have a lot of unique species there, and at the same time you have a lot of environmental degradation and … unsustainable hunting,” he said.

Butler said that both AlTo and the Nantu Forest Conservation Program have seen great success by working with local villagers and fostering new attitudes and norms on Sulawesi. For example, AlTo has employed villagers to watch over maleo eggs, paying them more than they had made poaching them and instilling along the way a community-wide pride in birds that were once seen as a commodity.

“They’re very small organizations, but they have a proven track record of getting community support,” Butler said. “They have a very strong buy-in from communities, and that’s the only way of making conservation work.”

Summers credits Islanders with making AlTo’s work possible. In addition to having many supporters on Vashon, AlTo has a five-person Vashon board of directors as well as an Indonesian board in Sulawesi. The organization has also taken Islanders on service trips to Tompotika.

“This has completely been possible because a bunch of Islanders came together to form a partnership with Tomptika. ... And even though it’s gotten larger, it’s still a Vashon force,” Summers said.

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