The Center for Surf Research is collaborating with Conservation International Indonesia in an attempt to protect the marine environment at iconic Bali surf break Uluwatu.
In the 40 years since Rusty Miller and Steve ‘Butch’ Cooney first surfed Uluwatu on camera for Albie Falzon’s film Morning of the Earth, radical changes have come to Bali. The Bukit Penninsula, jam packed with world class surf breaks from Ulu its self to Padang Padang, Nusa Dua and Sanur to the still awesome waves of Impossibles, Bingin and Dreamland has become a tourist Mecca on the strength of these waves. As with so many places beautiful places around the world, surfers came first for the waves. Local families set up small businesses to service them. Other tourists come because there is now tourism infrastructure and the beaches are beautiful and hey presto, a new destination is born. The Bukit is now almost completely developed, almost every square meter of available land built upon in the name of tourism. This has come at an environmental cost. Water quality has suffered, rubbish is often disposed of in the ocean, coral and fish populations have been impacted.
The entire marine ecosystem is in danger of being loved to death by surfers and tourists. What is less well known by the throngs of tourists is the spiritual importance of Uluwatu to the Balinese people. The Uluwatu temple has a 1300 year history and is one of the most sacred temples in Bali. It is the religious duty of every Balinese person to pray in the Uluwatu temple at least once each year. The temple is so sacred that the government recently tried to impose a 5km no-build zone around it – unfortunately they left their run a little late and there are already major hotel developments within this boundary.
Between the value of the Bukit Peninsula to local villagers, surfers, tourists, the tourism industry, and to the spiritual lives of Balinese people, the Bukit deserves our full attention and best efforts to strike a balance between existing development and a sustainable future. A number of local organizations in Bali have begun to raise awareness and tackle some of the contributing issues. These including the ROLE Foundation www.rolefoundation.org and the GUS Foundation www.gus-bali.org. At the central government level the winds of change are beginning to rustle leaves as well. In a recent speech President Yudhoyono set a target of establishing 20 million hectares of marine protected areas (MPA) in Indonesia by 2020. Bali has much to gain from embracing MPAs as the bulk of its tourism industry is based on the health of its marine environments. MPAs protect fish spawning aggregation zones from any kind of fishing and commercial fishing is banned altogether. Conservation International takes a ‘ridge to reef’ approach to MPAs, recognizing that in order to protect the marine environment, terrestrial environments need to have their house in order as well. For the Bukit this would mean ensuring that the tourism infrastructure is as sustainable as it can be to ensure that liquid and solid wastes and other pollutants are not being released into the marine environment.
In a recent meeting with the senior management of CI Indonesia it was agreed to form a collaboration with SDSU’s Center for Surf Research to develop a case to establish an MPA on the Bukit. Research partner of the Center, Tom Margules, is currently undertaking an ecosystem services analysis of Uluwatu. This study will provide the first empirically based information about the economic value of the Uluwatu ecosystem and represents a first step in establishing a solid case to present to the regency and provincial governments in Bali who will ultimately decide if an MPA is gazette or not. The Center is continuing the conversation with Conservation International to explore for further opportunities to collaborate where surf tourism overlaps with priority areas for marine conservation.