Thursday, March 20, 2014

View on the Debris Problem in Balinese Beaches

For the large number of tourists escaping wintry weather, whether Seoul, Beijing or Tokyo, It’s not the annual rainy season that surprises them here in this land of sandy beaches, rice fields, art, culture and Hindu temples that is still referred to by some as the “Island of the Gods.” Indeed, the rainy season is expected.

Instead, the seasonal monsoon winds, high waves and strong currents that come every winter are now bringing wave after wave of garbage on to some of Bali’s most famous beaches, and the government, residents and tourists alike are quite literally talking trash.

World-famous Kuta Beach, the long-time heart of Bali’s surfing culture, is increasingly littered with ocean-borne debris, and the Jakarta Post has now reported incidents of people getting infections after surfing off of the island’s southern beaches. 

A recent afternoon walk taking in some of Bali’s most famous beaches, Seminyak, Legian and Kuta, had one island visitor wading through plastic bags and wrappers, discarded yogurt containers and organic debris - not to mention the occasional soccer ball and shoe - all washed to shore, perhaps from elsewhere in Bali or from Java, the next Indonesian island to the west.

Understandably, none of this floating garbage makes it into the imagery of the country’s official travel and tourism campaign, “Wonderful Indonesia.” Launched globally in January 2011, that campaign showcases the many stunning attractions of the largest archipelago nation in the world, comprised of more than 17,500 islands, which stretches as wide in distance as from San Francisco to New York.

And therein lies a critical challenge for not just Indonesia’s aptly named Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, but all too many of Asia’s tourism authorities. As they seek to creatively brand destinations and capture visitors with catchy slogans - consider “Amazing Thailand,” “Malaysia: Truly Asia,” and “Incredible India!” - how to do so when unchecked economic development often threatens the long-term sustainability of the very attractions that bring in travelers, whether pristine beaches, ancient monuments or tropical rainforests.

More environmentally-friendly economic development is also essential if the investments they hope to attract and the economic growth that tourism dollars are supposed to fuel are to be realized.

A first step in Indonesia could include new waste management systems and strengthened efforts to clean up Bali’s beaches. Doing so will ensure the Island of the Gods remains a hotspot for tourism, not trash, for seasons on end. (koreajoongangdaily)

*The author, a former U.S. Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, is managing director of advisory firm RiverPeak Group. Follow him on Twitter at @CurtisSChin. 

By Curtis S. Chin

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