Indonesia: Bali mangrove cries SOS due to garbage, unsafe paths

Agnes Winarti Bali Daily 19 Oct 12;

Green attraction: Visitors observe the coastal ecosystem from a wooden walkway in the mangrove forest in Suwung, South Denpasar.(BD/Agung Parameswara)Green attraction: Visitors observe the coastal ecosystem from a wooden walkway in the mangrove forest in Suwung, South Denpasar.(BD/Agung Parameswara)

Enjoying the warm afternoon breeze under the watchful eye of her father, a toddler busily ate her crispy snacks while standing by a wooden gazebo in the Ngurah Rai mangrove forest.

Her fingers dug deeper into the package until no crisp was left uneaten. As she threw away the empty package without a second thought, it drifted into the nearest pile of garbage, as if being welcomed as its latest comrade.

“Compared to other mangrove forests I have visited across Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan, the Ngurah Rai mangrove forest is among the most heavily polluted with garbage. It’s similar to the Muara Angke mangrove in Jakarta. It’s not a pretty sight,” Komang Tri Wijaya, who works for the Mangrove Forest Management Office (Balai Pengelolaan Hutan Mangrove -BPHM) headquartered in Ngurah Rai mangrove forest in Suwung, told Bali Daily on Thursday.

Over a short period of time, the mounting garbage might not be a major issue for the matured mangrove trees, but Wijaya acknowledged: “For the young saplings, a polluted environment would not make an easy place to grow.”

Ecologically, mangroves provide benefits by severely reducing ocean wave abrasion and seawater intrusion in coastal areas, controlling the microclimate, as well as serving as a habitat for various water organisms. Indonesia has 4.2 million hectares of mangrove forest overall, among the largest in the world.

Although there have been some educational programs to raise awareness among school students and teachers on the importance of mangrove forests, Wijaya acknowledged that the conservation efforts for the Ngurah Rai mangrove forest had not been sustainable.

Mangroves were still regarded as the sole responsibility of the forestry agency, while actually also being a concern for fisheries, the economy and community empowerment, he pointed out.

“All this time, the mangrove forest has merely been viewed as an income generator [for the administration]. However, its long-term conservation value has been ignored,” he said. In September, the mangrove forest welcomed as many as 1,765 domestic visitors. From the entrance fee alone, last year the forest contributed Rp 114 million (US$11,900) in revenue for the administration.

A large part of the previously around 1,373 hectare mangrove forest stretching from Sanur to Tanjung Benoa has been rented to, to name a few, the public works agency (PU), the state electricity company (PLN), the state oil and gas company (Pertamina) and Ngurah Rai International Airport, and been converted to host buildings and main roads. “At present, only around 900 hectares are left that are still covered with actual mangrove trees,” said Wijaya.

Head of the Ngurah Rai mangrove forest operator, Irwan Abdullah, acknowledged that the office only received a total annual allocation of Rp 900 million, 50 percent of which went on forest rehabilitation in the form of planting saplings, 40 percent for security measures against intruders and 10 percent for educational programs.

“It’s clearly not enough for any sum to be allocated for waste management. Honestly, we are overwhelmed with the accumulation of trash,” said Irwan, citing that the office had only two sanitation officers that were in charge of collecting the piles of garbage around the forest’s some 10 hectare area that was open to the public.

“BPHM has been assisting us with their pickup truck to transport the garbage to the landfill each day. But there has not been any cooperation with the sanitation agency for regular waste pick up,” he said, citing the waste being collected amounted to four times the capacity of the trucks. The garbage comes not only from irresponsible littering visitors, but also from the streams of Badung River.

Mounting garbage is not the only problem, today parts of the forest’s 1.4-kilometer wooden paths provided as walkways around the 10-hectare forest are rotting. About 30 percent of the tracks constructed back in 2003 are now in dire need of renovation. Graffiti is also another issue yet to be tackled.

Recently, the Bali administration announced it had issued a license to manage an area of 102.2 hectares of the Ngurah Rai mangrove forest to a private company, PT Tirta Rahmat Bahari. Details of company’s development plans in the forest are still sketchy, but it was reported that some 75 temporary wooden gazebos would be built for accommodation, as well as a restaurant.

“Let’s hope they don’t only build gazebos. We really do hope that the private investor will thoroughly engage in revamping the forest’s tracks and toilets, rehabilitate the forest, and most importantly handle the nuisance of garbage,” said Irwan.