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

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Balinese Boreh

The colossal gateway of carved stone fringed by vast banyan trees, sets the tone for Nusa Dua Beach Hotel and Spa, an atmospheric  resort deeply imbued with Balinese warmth and charm. The famed spa is set just outside the gates in a peaceful oasis of wonderful old trees, and makes a great day trip. Treatment pavilions encircle a lavish swimming pool bordered by frangipani and heliconia, and there is full access to tennis and squash courts,  gym, sauna and steam room. The cafe serves up healthy salads and sandwiches, as well as fruit mocktails like Coconut Nojito with mint and coconut cream, pressed lime and Bali honey. Beauty classes teach the craft of  creating traditional body masks such as Balinese Boreh, and scrubs like Javanese Lulur, as well as local sunburn remedies, and jamu (traditional herbal remedies.)

We tried

The spicy detox treatment based on ‘boreh’, a traditional rejuvenating treatment popular in the mountains of Bali, where nights can be chilly. The deep penetrating heat of local spices is also favoured by fishermen and farmers, as it increases blood circulation and relieves aching joints.

Our treatment takes place in a lush spa villa for two and starts with an invigorating sea salt and peppermint foot scrub. A nurturing massage with warm herbal compresses of fresh betel leaf, citrus oil, and fresh lemon grass lulls us into a deep state of relaxation. Next, a mask of fresh crushed ginger, nutmeg and clove is applied and we are wrapped, cocoon-like, leaving the  spices to warm our bodies and detoxify our skin. The treatment finishes with a cooling application of fresh cucumber to seal in moisture.

The Verdict

The delicious warmth of the spices heats the muscles and the joints, melting away tension leaving us in an atrophic state. The wrap also acts as an exfoliator, removing dead cells to reveal silky, luminous skin.

Also Recommended

Signature packages include scrubs, massages and baths. Try Latte Detox with milk and honey;  Fruit Punch with Papaya and Avocado; Royal Exotic with Lulur body scrub and yoghurt mask

www.nusaduahotel.com

Bali Eco village

We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong we may begin to use it with love and respect.

Aldo Leopold    

High in the hills, in a valley shrouded in morning mists and perpetual tranquility, Bali Ecovillage provides a welcome sanctuary  from the excesses of southern Bali.

Bali Ecovillage  is set in a mountainous valley to the west of Kitamani, surrounded by bamboo trees, rainforests and coffee plantations. Original plans were for a weekend house built in bamboo, a place for the owners to relax and revel in the beauty of nature, but as the walls grew, so too did the idea of turning this peaceful sanctuary into an eco lodge that others could also enjoy;  guest bungalows and a couple of spacious villas were soon added to the plans.

Bamboo is increasingly popular as the eco building material of choice; a fast growing woody grass, it absorbs four times as much  carbon dioxide as slow to harvest timber, is lighter than steel, and five times stronger than concrete. Plants can grow several feet in a day and a field of bamboo can be harvested and used for construction purposes within three years of planting. If well treated and maintained it is also super resistant. The simple elegance and quiet strength of the  bamboo plant is mimicked in the rustic buildings at Bali Ecovillage , thousands of poles in shades of light and dark have been tightly bound together creating rich textures and dimensions. The building design was largely experimental and the results are quirky and enchanting with a hotchpotch of influences from around the archipelago, with a good measure of Italian flair thrown into the mix. The lodge is fitted with comfortable sofas, great books, a pool table, and a dart board, while evocative artifacts from Papua New Guinea  are scattered throughout the lounge and bungalows.  Sunlight peeps through the skylights and an expansive deck offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains,  this is the perfect place to soak up the silence, and breathe in air that is so fresh that the blast of oxygen makes you giddy. The atmosphere is cozy and homely, with evenings spent warming toes by an open fire,  perhaps curled up with a book or a board game, and a mug of steaming hot chocolate.

The word ‘eco’ is often just a catch phrase, but at Bali Ecovillage it is given full credence, the aim is to become a fully sustainable tourism facility, and to ‘give back’ to the local community, providing employment, training and education as well as acting as a model for eco tourism in the region. Waste is segregated with recycling handled by Eco Bali, and  organic matter composted or fed to the animals. Water is locally sourced, and garden water recycled, while the river has been harnessed to create hydro electricity that supplies some of the property’s  power needs. Activities are wholesome and ‘back to nature,’ visitors can learn how to make Balinese offerings; enjoy traditional massage;  bathe in the river or hike through the jungle. Rafting, cycling and rice paddy tours can also be organized. Guests are encouraged to explore the organic farm, with its extensive vegetable gardens, free range chickens, ducks and pigs. The homegrown cuisine adds to the wholesome atmosphere, and is even more enjoyable with an appetite stimulated by the fresh mountain air. Pick your own salad from the thriving greenhouse and enjoy homemade pasta, breads, jams and cakes.

Bali Ecovillage gives a glimpse into another side of Bali and is truly a place to recharge body, mind and soul.

www.baliecovillage.com