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Giving Back – Marine Conservation in Bali

20 March 2019 

This post is a little different to what we normally write about, but it feels important to share what we’ve been up to and hope to continue to do.

The secondary hope is that awareness of the story will lead to inspiring more change in others.

Single use plastic is something often talked about in the UK, with measures put in place to curb our usage of plastic bags, straws, coffee cups etc. In other parts of the world the experience of how people regard plastic and how they treat it is very different.

I (Lisa) recently returned from a few weeks volunteering in a remote village in northern Bali, supporting the North Bali Reef Conservation project that is dedicated to improving their local marine environment. My time away has given me a new perspective into what humans are doing to the planet – those causing the problem and those who are implementing change to make things better.

As a result of my time helping I’m even more keen to ensure that we do what we can to make a positive difference to our world.

The Problem:

Throughout Bali there is rubbish lying everywhere. On the roadside, in the forests, on the beaches. Travelling through the island you can’t go more than a second without seeing rubbish lying around. Underwater plastic hangs on to coral like parasites.

This is a problem often caused by lack of education. People don’t understand that it’s damaging to the environment. Or that a plastic bottle will still be in existence on the ground in 400 years. The culture is to use something and just throw it aside.

Compounding this plastic problem is one of coral reef destruction. Through years of misguided fishing practises and local customs that harvested the coral, large areas of the 3km stretch of reef around this area have been utterly decimated. No coral reef means no underwater ecosystem, no fish life, no fishing.

Coral reefs also protect shorelines from storm surges. During our time in Bali there was a sudden and very violent storm which resulted in severe damage to 6 of the 30 local fishing boats. No fishing boat means no income for those families.

The Project Providing the Solution

The project I was working with – North Bali Marine Conservation – is currently involved in a multi-way approach to help by:

  • Organising beach and reef clean ups;
  • Building new artificial reef structures. Made with concrete mixed with calcium carbonate and steel bars for support, these structures are deployed to the area where the reef once was for coral life to accumulate on;
  • Educating locals on rubbish, recycling, and why it’s important to look after their environment;
  • The creation of recycling centre, which is designed to be a hub for plastic collection/sorting/shredding/ and re-use to create items of value.

The workforce is split between volunteers donating their time and effort, and a group of the local fishermen who are employed by the project.

How I got involved

After a wonderful and very busy year for Val Wyatt, I was looking forward to a week long post Christmas break. My partner and I decided to head to Thailand for some sun and sea. Whilst there, Gemma was following the news stories of yet another natural disaster in Indonesia, and her desire to help was difficult to shake.

Gemma’s decision was to not go home at the end of the holiday, but to travel on to Indonesia and see what she could do to help. She contacted several volunteer organisations to offer her assistance, saying she’d do anything they need. The first to reply was a childcare project for underprivileged children. On the day that she was due to fly to Indonesia, and I was due to fly home, she had a second response, from a Marine Conservation project, desperately in need of qualified divers.

I gained my scuba diving qualifications many years ago, and I adore recreational diving. The idea of using my skills for such a worthwhile project felt like an incredible opportunity. It took Gemma a little while to persuade me to join her, but after about 10 minutes of consideration and following a conversation with our fantastic team here, I knew, (as I’m sure you all do), that I was able to leave the running of the day-to-day business in exceptionally capable hands.

Deciding to fit remote working in and around my new daily routine in the volunteer camp, I flew back to the UK for one week of some busy days in the office and a trip to Poland – to visit the builders of our Corsiva boats – before heading back out east to Bali a week later.

Day to day life

The conditions in the volunteer camp were incredibly basic.

We lived in a hut on the beach, with no hot water and certainly no soundproofing to keep out the noises of the pack of dogs twilight barking, or the cockerels who believed the day started at 4.30am.

The toilets and bucket showers were outdoors – I found the cold showers particularly brutal, especially when it was raining – the hygiene was minimal, the mozzies ate us alive, and the H&S near non-existent. Think carrying concrete blocks in flip flops with bare hands and building a roof with no scaffolding.

But this short period of time was also life changing in a wonderful way. It made me see how a little effort can make a huge difference. It was a very real and very humbling experience that has given me a new appreciation of the impact we can all make – good and bad.

This adventure saw me:

  • clearing space to dig foundations for the new recycling centre,
  • stripping bark off trees (my machete injury was well obtained),
  • lugging materials,
  • mixing cement,
  • laying bricks,
  • building artificial reef structures (concrete is a surprisingly satisfying medium to work with),
  • moving these structures underwater (surprisingly good fun),
  • cleaning up the coast, both above and below the surface;

and meeting some incredible people from all walks of life who simply strive to make things better.

Moving forwards 

Emotionally, I’m now very attached to the projects that the North Bali Marine Conservation team are running. I’ve seen the difference that they are making and am eager to see how the local environment changes as a result of their work to curb littering.

It’s also made me look at how we’re operating as a business.

Moving forwards, we will continue to support environmental conservation projects, and do what we can to better manage our usage of materials, our waste, our recycling, and put in place measures to take better care of our area.

I hope that you’ll help us do the same.