On the face of it, this is just a pretty seaside view of the East Bali coastline. There are gaily painted, local fishing boats drawn up on the beach, surf breaks on an apparent reef just offshore and it all takes place under a beautiful sky. An idyllic scene, eh?
Unfortunately, delve a little deeper and a picture of a frightening, maddening, catastrophic, almost irreversible, but totally avoidable tragedy of monumental, planet-eco-system-sized proportions starts to emerge.
In the middle of the photo is a breakwater. Why is it there? Why are none of the fishing boats at sea, catching fish?
In the 1970’s and ’80’s, the emerging Bali tourist boom was making unattainable demands on the local area’s building materials. With all the accommodation that was required and pent up money being ripe for the picking, another building material source was desperately needed. Unbelievably, within my lifetime, a community thought it was a good idea to dynamite the local coral reef and use it as a basic building material – an added bonus into the equation was the increased volume of the fishing ‘catch’ and the ease with which it was attained. So, all along the waterfront you can now find tourist cottage accommodation, largely made of coral. No doubt in the later part of the 1900’s, everybody was being very self-congratulatory on their plan and the resulting increased money that flowed in from tourism. I don’t know when it started to become apparent, but in the intervening years, the longer term ramifications of these actions have started to take effect. The lack of an offshore coral reef has now caused huge erosion problems onshore. With no protection from the reef, the shoreline was literally being washed away. The coral-built cottages were now in danger of being rendered useless because the dead coral was shoring up roof timbers and providing shelter to humans instead of living, growing and providing shelter and food to sea life a few hundred metres offshore. The answer? More building!! This time in the form of many breakwaters, such as the one in the photo. How ironic – the amount of raw building material in the breakwaters along this part of the coastline must be many times the amount needed to build the cottages and accommodation and beaches that they are trying to protect. Oh, and that increased ‘catch’? Yup you guessed it,……. gone. With no reef left to support the majority of the sea life, the fish have largely disappeared and the area’s fishing fleets have been rendered useless.
Think this is an isolated case? A 2002 study estimated that 56% of ALL coral reefs in Southeast Asia are at risk from this type of destructive fishing. Search on the internet and you will find video of this activity being conducted within the last few months. What is the cost? Damaged reef, if it ever recovers at all, takes between decades and centuries to re-new. A 1998 study estimates the COST of overfishing to Indonesian society at US$1.9 BILLION over 25 years. Done correctly, a 1997 study estimated that a sustainable fishery can employ 10,000 Indonesian fishermen and GENERATE US$322 MILLION over the same period.
What is to be done? Well, this practice is illegal in most countries, but enforcement and education in the countries where it is practised are severely lacking. Possibly the biggest problem seems to be that the wider International-Government-Level institutions regard this as a ‘local’ problem to be sorted out by woefully inadequate ‘local’ government. I would suggest that this is a global issue and needs to be tackled at a global level. NGO’s are not powerful enough to influence what occurs in the relevant countries, so this needs to be UN/Regional Alliance led initiative. Given the ponderous nature of these beasts, I fear that we may already be too late to contain the far reaching implications of this problem.