Sotheby’s auctioning off rights to 100+ ‘uninhabited, pristine’ islands near Bali next month

Page from the Sotheby’s Concierge Auction book on the Widi Islands. Image: Sotheby’s
Page from the Sotheby’s Concierge Auction book on the Widi Islands. Image: Sotheby’s

Among the many ridiculous luxury properties being offered at the Sotheby’s Concierge Auctions taking place in New York from Dec. 8-14 is the unique opportunity to purchase the development rights to the islands of the Widi Reserve, which is located northeast of Bali in the heart of the Coral Triangle.

“Every billionaire can own a private island, but only one can own this exclusive opportunity spread across 100+ islands,” said Sotheby’s VP Charlie Smith in a press release about the auction. 

As Sotheby’s describes it on their website, “… the Widi Reserve is a coral atoll archipelago boasting 100-plus uninhabited, pristine tropical islands fringed by 150 kilometers of powder white sand beaches, thriving coral reefs, and private, deep-sea, nutrient-rich waters.”

It goes on to say: “Separated not only by space and time, but by extraordinary natural beauty and total privacy, it is one of the most breathtaking properties anywhere on Earth.”

To be clear, Sotheby’s is auctioning off development rights to the island, not ownership rights, as Indonesian law does not permit private ownership of islands.  

Sotheby’s also notes in its description that the Widi Reserve “… is one of the most intact coral atoll ecosystems left on earth and an animal kingdom of epic proportions, home to hundreds of rare and endangered species including Blue Whales, Whale Sharks, 600 documented species of marine mammals, fish, birds, insects and lizards, and species yet to be discovered.”

Naturally, some Indonesians are concerned about the potential impact developing the islands would have on the environment and the economies of local communities who fish in the area.

In its materials, Sotheby’s emphasizes that developments within the reserve would have to be eco-friendly, with limits on the number of residential units that can be built only on certain islands. It also claims “the local community, based on the mainland, will benefit significantly from skills training and a wide range of employment opportunities. Some will become rangers and join a top international team of conservation experts in helping to protect this incredible oceanic habitat.” 

There has been significant controversy in Indonesia over the legality of the sale. 

The government of North Maluku’s South Halmahera Regency, which is the closest administrative region to the Widi islands, said last week that it had not been informed of the sale before news of the auction was made public. The regency’s secretary, Saiful Turuy, told Kompas that they would ask that the permit given to PT Leadership Islands Indonesia (LII), the company that holds the caretaker rights to Widi and is working with Sotheby’s on the sale, be revoked. 

Saiful said this was because, in the seven years since LII was granted management rights over the island, they had not done anything to develop them and had simply obtained the rights to act as a broker for foreign investors. 

On Saturday, Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Uno responded to the controversy by saying the Widi Islands were not for sale but noted that auctioning off its development rights was not necessarily a violation of the law if it was done according to regulations and benefitted Indonesians. He said if there were any violations, the government would cancel the sale. 

If you’re crazy rich and don’t care about the controversy, you can head to Sotheby’s website to register for the auction. But you’ll need to place a US$100,000 deposit just to make a bid. 



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