Saving the reefs of Northern Bali

The Indonesian archipelago is home to the richest assortment of coral species in the world, but its reefs are vanishing as global warming, pollution and unsustainable fishing and tourism practices take their toll.

Indonesia’s appalling conservation record is well documented and it would be easy to write yet another article about imminent disaster; but I am sick of all the doom and gloom, because with destruction comes regeneration.  While politicians  and environmental agencies gather in endless global summits and engage in pointless debates about how to fix things,  often the most effective change is happening at a grassroots level, and I knew that somewhere in Bali someone would be doing something to save the reefs.

I find my story in the north of the island, in a humble village that sits in the shadows of the mountains. Just meters off  Pemuteran’s  black sandy shore lies the  Karang Lestari (Everlasting Reef) Project, one of the largest and most ambitious coral restoration projects in the world. A reef that had badly damaged is once again thriving due to a unique technology called Bio-Rock, which uses electric currents to stimulate the growth of coral.

I have no idea what to expect, but this is unbelievable, a kind of futuristic underwater fantasy world. Fifty large steel structures span over 1000 feet and take the form of a caterpillar, a whale, an igloo, a dome, a tent, and a  flower,  all covered in a profusion of brightly coloured coral. Hundreds of tiny blue fish hover above the dome, bat fish flitter amidst the flowers. I see starfish, lionfish, a school of snapper and cheeky little Nemos everywhere. Soft pastel corals sway in the current and purple tipped table corals sprawl across the metal bars. The reef surrounding the structures is also thriving, everywhere I look I see life and vibrant colour. Natural power is the plan for future structures (which includes a Goddess rising from a lotus.) Reef Seen Aquatics Dive Center have already set  things in motion,  sponsoring two structures, a bio wreck and a giant turtle that are powered by solar panels.

Bio-Rock utilizes Mineral Accretion Technology which stimulates the growth of naturally occurring calcium carbonate, the substance that forms coral. Low levels of electric current (dc) are rigged to the structures which are then planted with coral fragments, minerals are attracted to the coral, the coral adheres to the structures and grows at an accelerated rate of up to five times. It also produces a veritable super coral that is hardier and more resistant to changing water temperatures and pollution. Healthy coral brings fish, and when combined with a ‘no fishing’ policy, it acts as a breeding ground thus replenishing fish stock for outer reefs.

Back on land, I spend time with Komang the Manager of the Bio-Rock centre, he has been involved with the project since its beginning and his dedication and insight is inspiring. He tells me that, “Bio-Rock is good because it brings the tourists, which bring money to the community, and it also brings fish so it keeps the fishermen happy.” Herein lies the true significance of the project because along with reef restoration came social and economic rejuvenation.

Traditionally Pemuteran was one of Bali’s most impoverished fishing villages. During the nineties tourists started to trickle into the area drawn to the stunning reefs. But in 1998 double catastrophe struck; El Nino sent warm currents across the globe causing mass coral bleaching; and the Asian economic crisis sent waves of starving itinerant Indonesian fishermen into Pemuteran, where the bounty was plentiful. They were armed with  dynamite and cyanide (used to stun fish to gather for aquariums) and the peace was shattered by exploding bombs.

All too often conservation conflicts with traditional resource users. How do you tell a starving fisherman that he cannot take the fish? Komang says that he couldn’t blame the fisherman because “They were only looking for this time, not the future.”  They didn’t know any better. The key to sustainability is education, and the availability of viable alternatives, and behind the scenes a group of colourful characters had been providing this.  Chris Brown the owner of Reef Seen Aquatics and a long term and well loved resident had worked tirelessly with the community  and village leaders to instill the need for sustainability and was joined by Pak Agung, the Balinese owner of  Taman Sari resort; and Rani and Narayan, ardent divers who were former members of a large religious community.  Chris tells me that “You have to take things slowly, so that they get done quickly and slowly but surely the fishermen understood. In a unique turn of events Adat (traditional) law was applied to create a no fishing zone and the Pecalang laut (marine security forces) were formed to chase of the cyanide fishermen.

Encouraged by community  efforts to conserve the reef, more colourful characters entered the scene; Dr Tom Goreau, an impassioned Jamaican marine biologist and Professor Wolf Hilbertz the German scientist who had discovered Bio-Rock. Together they had formed the Global Coral Reef Alliance and  donated their time and energy to Pemuteran, the first structures were placed in the sea in 2000. Karang Lestari has received numerous environmental awards and Government recognition, however it has been entirely sponsored by private donors and operates on the tightest of shoe string budgets. Recent initiatives include the opportunity to ‘Sponsor a baby coral’ and the establishment of PET (Pemuteran Environment and Community Trust) whereby divers can make a voluntary donation of RP 20,000 or more.

Similar projects have been attempted in other locations but without the support of the community are doomed to failure. A key to the success of Karang Lestari has been the implementation of other projects that enable the community.  Chris initiated the recruitment of ‘Reef Gardeners’ who are trained to maintain and protect the reefs, and a Turtle Hatchery which  protects sea turtles and their eggs. The Pemuteran Foundation, PET, and private tour operators also support these and various other programs aimed at education, tree planting and clean water.

To say the village is prospering would be an overstatement, but life for its inhabitants has improved dramatically. As  Komang tells me,  “Now no one is hungry.” Fishermen have been converted from hunters to protectors and have seen that conservation means more fish. Villagers have learned that by protecting the sea they benefit financially because the restored reefs bring tourists which create jobs and business opportunities, which in turn gives access to education and health care. Everybody wins!  It might just be one reef and one community, but it’s a step in the right direction and  Pemuteran acts as a model for fishing and diving communities everywhere.

For more information or to make a donation check the following websites, or take a trip to Pemuteran and see for yourself….

www.balitamansari.com

www.pemuteranfoundation.com

www.biorockbali.webs.com

www.reefseenbali.com

www.globalcoral.org

Bali Animal Welfare Association

BAWA (Bali Animal Welfare Association) was founded by Janice Girardi, a Californian native who rescued her first Bali dog in Kintamani 27 years ago, so beginning a one woman crusade to improve life for man’s best friend across the island. Her passion for animals and their welfare is consuming, and she is an inspiring example of how one person really can make a difference. For years she has been feeding street dogs and rescuing sick and injured animals, loading them on to a makeshift stretcher and driving them to the vet in Denpasar. In 2007 she formalized her position and along with one of Indonesia’s top veterinarians, Dr Dewa Dharma, created BAWA. Finding homes for puppies is just one of BAWA’s programs: The not-for-profit charity also supports a 24 hour clinic; an animal ambulance; a mobile sterilization clinic; an education program; and a range of community projects.

The care centre in Gianyar is run by a dedicated team of volunteers and staff and houses an average of 50 dogs and cats at a time. The level of care is heartening and eventually BAWA will find homes for all these animals, even if it means paying impoverished farmers with monthly rations of rice to take them on.

Dogs have not always fared well in Bali and the notion of having a dog as a pet is a new concept, but one that is slowly catching on. Janice describes education as, “The only hope for lasting change,” and her staff are active in schools and in the local communities. “The Balinese are learning that if you love a dog, it will return ten-fold,” she tells me.

BAWA survives soley on donations and the recent outbreak of rabies in Bali is consuming enormous amounts of resources as Janice and her team embark on an island wide mission to vaccinate dogs. For more informaion or to make a donation check http://www.balibawa.com

Bombastic plastix

from this

to this…..

They are handed out gleefully by cashiers the length and breadth of the island, used once and abandoned. Their fate − to float down rivers, ride the waves, wash up on the beaches or smolder in black smoky fires.…. In Bali there is no escaping  plastic bags.   But there is always hope, and a small company called Bombastic Plastix  is hard at work turning plastic trash into  funky fashion accessories.

Recycled products often get a bad wrap (no pun intended) because they are produced poorly with little thought for design. But Bombastic Plastix has turned recycling into an art form and their products – bags, purses, wallets,  are attractive in their own right, regardless of their ‘greenness’. Let’s face it, most of us want to do our bit to save the planet but there is nothing wrong with looking good while we are doing it.

It all started a few years ago, on Bombastic founder, Sam Miller’s kitchen floor. He was a man on a mission, armed with an environmental conscience, a keen sense of design, a heap of plastic bags and an iron. Through trial and error he discovered a way to fuse plastic bags into sheets of plastic fabric, which form the base of all his products.  “Its hardly like we are using all the plastic in the world,” he tells me, “but at least we are using some of it; and we are taking something that has a service life of 30 minutes  and converting in into something that lasts years.”

Check out the website, its great fun and really informative, and you will love Sam – he is one super cool dude!

http://www.bombasticsplastix.com

Bali Eco Lodge

With a picturesque setting on the slopes of Mt Batakaru Bali Eco Lodge provides a genuine haven for those looking to immerse themselves  in nature and to experience the true essence of  Bali.Charming, secluded bungalows with names like Tree House and Jungle Lodge cling to the hillside, wooden verandas offer birds eye views of  steep valley walls blanketed in thick rain forest; far below you can see the sprawling coast of Kuta – so near,  yet  a world away. The first thing you will notice is the bird song– woodpeckers, kingfishers and  parrots are at play in the forest canopy, black eagles streak across the sky ,  the looming peak of  Mount Batakaru creates a dramatic backdrop. Natural building materials include local timber, like coconut and jack fruit,  while floors are made of hand crafted terracotta tiles. Fresh cut flowers, colourful woven textiles, and warm patchwork quilts (the nights are chilly!) create homely comforts.

Being Green

The lovechild of dedicated environmentalists, Linda and Norm Vant Hoff, the lodge is about as  ‘eco’ as it gets, with well documented  green credentials, including the ‘Responsible Tourism Award’ in 2007 and 2010 (www.wildasia.net) The tenets of sustainability, low impact building techniques , effective resource and waste management, are all faithfully adhered to, everything is in perfect balance with nature; but we sometimes forget that there is more to the environment than  physical factors.  From Norm and Linda’s point of view,  an eco lodge is “Sustainably connected to the natural, built and social environment”; and the lodge has become a valued  extension of the village and community of Sarinbuana. While you enjoy the magical surrounds, delicious healthy cuisine and a range of activities, you can also relax in the knowledge that   your stay  here contributes to the local economy on a number of levels: The lodge employs  26  staff from the village and have trained locals as trekking guides and massage therapists. Ongoing community projects include extensive tree planting, free English, martial art and football classes for village children, the sponsoring of a university student; and ongoing additions and  improvements to the school. It also  acts as a role model for responsible tourism; promoting low impact activities, with an emphasis on walking, bike riding, and swimming in the waterholes. Enormous value is placed on the preservation and promotion of  local culture, with popular workshops providing genuine insight into everyday life in Bali and the chance to learn traditional skills.   Learn Balinese Calligraphy, Indonesian language, and how to play a traditional instrument, or join the  village ladies who teach the art of  creating beautiful temple offerings, table settings, and cooking;  while Pak Ketut, a remarkable and inspired wood carver (responsible for  the ornate carvings in the bungalows) shares his craft and his wisdom.

A walk in the garden

When Norm and Linda first took over the property it was dominated by wild grass and coconut trees,  eighteen years on the gardens are flourishing with over 100 edible and medicinal plants. The garden tour is a   fascinating and informative journey with Manager, Putri, pointing out all manner of herbs, spices and plants, and explaining their traditional uses. Look out for the fiddletip ferns  – they make a great salad served with shredded coconut and Lombok chili, while the dainty  ginger flowers are equally tasty.  Much of the produce served in the restaurant is picked fresh from the garden, or sourced locally, including coffee and cacao, and home made ice cream is flavoured with the vanilla that grows here. A meandering path leads down to the water holes passing sweetly perfumed orange trees, dense thickets of mulberry  bushes ,  dangling passion fruit vines and a plethora of heliconia. Wooden benches and open air pavilions are scattered about the property, ideal for yoga, meditation and soaking up the silence. If you are feeling more energetic take an early morning hike up to the top of Batakaru, the track leads through the largest rainforest in Bali, home to luwak (civet) leopard cats and monkeys, emerging at a peak with  view stretching over to Lombok and Java .

The beauty of the  Eco Lodge is  that it can be enjoyed on so many levels , hide away from the world in a secluded mountain paradise, or put yourself out there as you immerse yourself in the nature, culture and  community.  Make sure you spend some time with Linda and Norm so you can learn about their various eco projects around the island, including saving the Bali Starling, permaculture, solar energy.  For Linda the Eco lodge has provided “A chance to give back” but she makes it clear that she gets back as much as she gives.  For her the greatest joy is, “To be connected to the environment, the people and the  land,  making a living and a life with local people who are incredibly talented.”  Here the Balinese concept of life, known as Tri Hata Karana is firmly in place – the three forces of happiness – harmony with god, harmony with man, harmony with nature.

Sarinbuana Eco Lodge

Mount Batakaru, Tabanan, Bali

www.baliecolodge.com