Bali’s coral reefs

reefCoral reefs form large sections of the Bali coastline. A coral reef is an enormous natural object made of limestone, created by small sea creatures called Anthozoa. Coral reefs and the tiny polyps are extremely sensitive to their environment, small changes in ocean temperatures, salinity and other factors. Slight changes in the amount dissolved particles from human waste can seriously threaten a coral reef.

Coral reefs are important for the marine habitat, providing shelter for marine life, protecting the coast against erosion and as a breeding ground for fish. Bali’s coral reefs contain a diverse selection of marine life, Indonesia itself being rated as the epicenter of marine biodiversity. Coastal communities in Bali depend on fishing for their livelihood.

In 2007 over 80% of the coral reefs in Bali are damaged in some way, some almost destroyed. Coral bleaching occurs when ocean temperatures rise by as little a 1 degree over a year. Bali’s coral reefs were damaged by the El Nino weather condition in 1998, when 75% of the coral reefs around Bali Barat National Park and Tulamben showed signs of bleaching. The reefs can grow back, but in some areas that hasn’t happened.

Traditionally Balinese people have made extensive use of natural products, building houses from bamboo and alang alang, eating from a banana leaf and using flowers for ceremonial offerings. When garbage accumulated it could either be burned or tossed in a a stream, finding its way to the ocean. Increasing population together with modern style garbage means the coral reefs are under attack. Bali has scanty waste water management and in some built up areas, most famously at the airport (where raw sewage is discharged) and around Seminyak beach at the end of Jl. Dhyana Pura, large areas of brown matter washing around in the surf are visual evidence of what is going on. Bottles, plastic bags and 1-serving sachets are among the most visible villains of the modern world, affecting the ecology of Bali.

Inorganic matter passed on from tourists, expats and locals, eventually end up getting burned by the side of the road or dumped along roads and streams, much of it ending up in the ocean. Even serene areas of the East Bali coast are not immune, with colored plastic bags washing up in the surf. On Seminyak beach its possible to see the beach clean up crew creating small piles of the garbage they raked up, then bury it in 1 foot deep holes, ready for the next tide to wash it out.

Bali’s garment industry uses tremendous amounts of dye and other chemical products which end up in the ocean. Pollution of watercourses is a big problem in Bali, which directly leads to pollution of the ocean and destruction of coral reefs. Balinese rice farmers not mostly use exotic varieties of rice that can be harvested more often and produce more rice. This intensive working of the land, over and over depletes it, so fertilizers must be used. Up in the rice terraces of central Bali one can see stacks of 50gk white sacks of fertilizer. You can also see the run off, when you pass a rice that has a milky white element. Rice fields are actually a problem for global warming no matter which way you cut it. If the farmers burn the waste matter, stalks etc, it creates a massive amount of smoke. If they plough the stuff back into the field after flooding, the resulting decomposition creates methane gas, which traps 4 times the heat of CO2. Maybe the Balinese need to start growing potatoes. When pesticides used in rice production reach the ocean they contribute in the decline of fish stocks and coral decay. Fertilizer has the effect of speeding up the growth of algae, which sucks the oxygen out of the water and create algae blooms which can kill fish and make shell fish poisonous.

Some of most appalling examples of reef destruction are Candi Dasa and Serangan. Candi Dasa in East Bali was a hippie hangout in the ’60’s popular because of its white sand beach. Local contractors dynamited the reef to use in building and the beach washed away. On Serangan island the south facing coral reef was covered rocks and dirt to expand the island. Now villagers sell chunks of the leftover coral for $1 for a foot long slab.

Here are things you can do to help preserve the coral reefs in Bali:

Do not go on dolphin watching trips where the dolphins are chased by motorboats.
Do not buy live tropical fish, unless you know they have been caught in a non-destructive way.
Do not buy souvenirs made from coral or turtle shells.
Do not eat at restaurants offering turtle meat.
Do not eat at restaurants offering live fish which include lobster, Napolean warasse and grouper, as they are often caught using cyanide (a hard one as many of us like fresh seafood)
Do not take any living creature from the ocean
Do not anchor your boat on a coral reef
Do not step on corals
Do not eat shark fin

Place all your waste items in a proper bin.

Some of the best reefs in Bali are on the Bukit peninsula. You can get a close up look at the marine life at low tide at beaches such as Padang Padang, Balangan and Bingin.