Bali – Paradise Lost & FoundPosted By : admin | March 17, 2014 | 14 comment(s)
There have a slew on articles on Bali in the International Press in the past couple of years on the state of the sea and pollution and rubbish in general on the island. The Wall Street Journal, TIME Magazine, Huffington Post and SURFER Magazine have all featured the problem with alarming photographs to match.
The governing officials in Bali will place the blame on monsoons and trash coming over from Java. These natural occurrences do influence the amount that washes up on Bali beaches, especially organic matter. As the prevailing winds and currents create a mini maelstrom as the southwest and northeast monsoons swap over then a higher incidence of debris on Bali’s southern beaches is natural. However why precisely is so much of this washing up and mostly plastic? Because Bali does have a waste disposal problem throughout the island, which means that rubbish not disposed of properly is washed downstream.
There is a disproportionate amount of waste in relation to the disposal of it. This obviously is going to create a situation where it builds up not only on the beaches, but also in rivers, landfills and pockets throughout the island. Does this however mean that Bali is redundant as a destination and it should be slated to the extent it is? No is the simple answer to that. It does however need to take action and address the problem to counteract the damage that has been done and is building up every day.
Bali is experiencing an unprecedented level of development and economic growth. A rising level of waste is part of this ‘development’ that accompanies the influx of trucks, building materials and mainly people – both immigrant workers and tourists. Tourism is growing at an exponential rate whereas the infrastructure is not this creates a disparity between the volume of waste being produced and disposed of. There is a simple two-phase way to halt this. By investing in both better waste management and a more sustainable model of tourism.
Currently Bali’s tourism policies focus on tourist arrivals. The estimated amount of arrivals for 2013 was 3.15 million people, up 9% from the year before. The stress this is putting on the environment is becoming evident by the amount of landslides in the rainy season, caused by lack of vegetation to ‘anchor’ the earth, and naturally the trash scattering the shorelines to varying degrees. A Balinese tourism expert, Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya, chairman of GIPI-Bali, told Kompas.com , “It’s time that we think about the quality of tourists coming to Bali, let’s not only look at the quantity.”
Tourism development cannot be halted but it can be managed and planned to mould around the shifting paradigms on this island. We have illustrated people and destinations that are working within the sustainable landscape to create properties and places that fit in with Bali’s natural resources and cultural landscape. However the majority of tourism is bypassing Bali itself and just developing in capital landscapes of mass tourism or the so called luxury market.
Bali is not alone here, after a recent trip to Siem Riep, where the slower tuk-tuks and bicycles have been replaced by roaring tour buses to Angkor, rivers and land are choking on rubbish too, as are many destinations that have fallen into the ‘mass tourism’ market.
A prime example in recent years is the development of The Mulia on the beach at Nusa Dua. This hotel carved up the landscape over 26 hectares, pulled up every tree and piece of vegetation, displaced generations of seaweed farmers with no compensation and leached tonnes of waste from it’s construction into one of the most beautiful beaches in Bali to create a marble monstrosity in the name of ‘luxury’. The result was destroyed clarity of water, a beach that washed away and
economic ruin for seaweed farming families. The resort is also home to the 2000 plus staff who are housed and creating waste on a daily basis in addition to the hotel. Hardly any are local Balinese so an extra burden of people is now living in a previously sparsely populated part of Bali. The disproportionate amount of immigrants to Balinese working on these projects and in these hotels is adding another burden to scarce water and land resources.
However is it all doom and gloom and the end of Bali? Definitely Not.
What must be remembered about all of the negative articles is that they are concentrated in a very small area in the southern part of Bali as is most of the development. Bali is not exceptional for its adoption of fast tourism development or increasing mass tourism. This happens in many areas of natural beauty that are comparatively cheap destinations.
It is exceptional for its unique cultural landscape, such as the rice farming subak system, its unique form of Hinduism, artisans and exceptional friendliness. Every country is going to get tourists who have zero interest in their destination and are simply exploiting cheap flights and accommodation. It is up to those involved in tourism to promote a more sustainable and responsible model.
Economics is often blamed for the lack of ecotourism. This Article (http://blog.wtmresponsibletourism.com/2014/03/responsible-tourism-impacts/) uses six examples globally. The pattern you can see here is that if the natural ecosystems are protected and local people are involved in the creation of a sustainable tourism model then economically it can match if not exceed the economic gains from other (often more destructive) industries.
Two key components to make this work are:
1) Preservation of the Existing Ecosystem ie. Beach, forest, rice fields etc.
2) Involvement of the Local Community
Sadly many of the new developments in Bali ignore this. This brings in one of the contradictions of mass tourism; it always seems to end up a victim of The Law of Diminishing Returns. The tourist numbers go up in an area and more hotels are built. At some point if this development goes unchecked the number of hotel rooms exceeds the number of arrivals. This leads to a slash in prices and increased tourism occurs, a demographic notorious for not spending money in local outlets. More is built, less is spent, and discontent and crime often rise, as does pollution and desirability. Tourism drops and moves elsewhere, the economy, house prices and employment plummets. This was witnessed in Southern Spain and elsewhere in Europe.
Is Bali at this stage? At the moment tourism numbers are still in line with development. It is likely to reach this stage soon, but only in certain areas; those being – Kuta to Canggu, Nusa Dua and increasingly Ubud. The majority of the island remains pretty much unscathed. There are still superb areas of natural beauty in the north, east and central areas for diving, trekking and cultural pursuits. A plethora of temples, handicrafts in amongst rice fields, forests, volcanoes and coastlines.
There is also a movement in Bali of people who are aware the paradigm needs to shift and are moving towards a more sustainable model in further outlying areas. The innovation in responsible and green architecture, utilizing cultural traditions as attractions in a low impact way and foresight of those involved in a greener model of development is unprecedented in such a small area, compared to anywhere else in the world. With a generation growing up here in places such as The Green School, there is also an awareness of the problems. Ethical hotels and businesses are also growing on this island, with the current problems Bali is facing at their core. The innovation with bamboo, spiritual tourism and surfing is all being used to slowly set in place to set a huge environmental awareness revolution on the island.
A Wonderful Example are two young girls from The Green School who have set up ‘Bye,Bye Plastic Bags’ – a Petition on Avaaz to ban plastic bags on the island. Governor Mangku Pastika has agreed that he will if the petition gains a million signatures. He is also now considering a plastic free Bali by 2015, but how is remained to be seen.
John Milton said in his epic poem Paradise Lost
“Solitude sometimes is best society.”
This may be true in terms of development, as in his reference to the human condition, if an area wants to keep away the ugly side effects.
Bali is an island, and problems are magnified like a goldfish bowl. It is easy to concentrate on a small area and bemoan a ‘paradise lost’. On the other hand you can focus on the greenest landscapes you will find in the world, a fascinating culture, beautiful blue waves, incredible art and the friendliest people. Amongst all this exists one of the most positive movements of sustainable tourism and development per capita of any small society then in fact this island is still ‘Paradise Found’, and it will always be found in Bali long after the cheap flights, rooms and beer has dried up.
Electra Gillies – Founder & Editor in Chief of The Eco Gypsy has a MSc in Tourism, Development & Environment and also works as a consultant towards more sustainable tourism practices.