A tale of change across Southeast Asia
Across the South China Sea, two notable projects are helping to restore the biodiversity and beauty of the islands and the communities that live on them. Action Asia spoke to Project Clean Uluwatu in Indonesia and Song Saa Foundation in Cambodia to find out more about the root of the problem and how these organisations are tackling the issue through sustainable tourism. Curtis Lowe, the director of Project Clean Uluwatu told us how the sur fing mecca in Indonesia is slowly turning into a model of sustainability in which conscientious surfers from all around the world can participate. Meanwhile, Wayne Mccallum from Song Saa Foundation shed some light on how the foundation created the first tropical marine conservation centre in the country and its plan to engage both local stakeholders and volunteers from abroad.
What are some of the problems that triggered the need to create and launch your project? Curtis Lowe: The aim of Project Clean Uluwatu (PCU) is to restore and preserve Uluwatu - one of the most renowned and iconic surf breaks in the world. However, inadequate waste management infrastructure was a major issue as it failed to accommodate the influx of tourists and consequently the effects of increased waste. The fragile ecosystem further deteriorated due to the lack of environmental responsibility. Since 2011, PCU has worked with the local community to address these environmental threats and provide environmentally sustainable solutions to increasing rubbish and liquid waste management problems in Uluwatu. In 2 0 1 4 , we i nst a l l e d a Li quid Waste Management System, linking a l l war ungs t o a c e nt r a l bioprocessing tank, ridding the surrounding ecosystem a nd o c e a n of p ol l ut a nt s and toxins. Water f rom the bioprocessing tank is further purified by a series of wastewater gardens. Now, our composting program processes all solid organic waste and converts the waste into nutrient rich organic fertilizer for our community gardens.
Wayne Mccallum: There has been an enormous growth in awareness of the marine world and the opportunities to conserve it, across the Koh Rong archipelago, amongst both visitors and the local communities as a result of our work. The Archipelago is changing rapidly and it is encouraging to see aspects of our conservation and community messages being carried into the development activities of local businesses and international developers.
How d o e s P CU e n g a g e w i t h t h e l o c a l community and what are their responses like? CL: The restoration of Uluwatu to a more natural state and our garden initiatives already receive positive feedback. Our efforts set the precedent of how to get the local community and visitors involved in working towards a solution regarding waste management and the environment. Over the next few years we would like to see the entire project taken over by the locals - as of now our best partners are the Local Warung Association, which we help set up years ago so that all the warung owners could speak as one, and the Uluwatu Board Riders Club. The local board riders are really the natural fit for this, as it's their beach and they care about it as much as anyone. We have some support from the local government, but it is more moral than financial. At the beginning, we were lucky not to have too much government interference, as they would have wanted... the money. Now, the local government is more understanding and we do see them helping more and more. We'd like to help the local government set up good infrastructure for waste management in the entire area. Of course there have been a few misconceptions about foreign surfers coming in to dictate local policies, but usually it's phrased more as we're sick of foreigners telling us what to do and now you're telling us what to do with our trash too... but that has faded out as the results speak for themselves. Everyone is stoked on the progress we have made, and we've done with the help of progressive and caring locals.
How does the marine centre operate and what is the volunteer recruitment process like? WM: The sustainability centre has a training programme and hires interns for pioneering research on Cambodia's marine environment. The programme has only been operating for 14 months, so it is too early to say whether we have repeated volunteers. However, we do get a lot of inquiries from people who, have either read comments on social media from individuals who have volunteered with is, or from friends and associates of people who have volunteered with the Foundation's Tropical Marine Conservation Programme. Our volunteer target - young adults, just out of university, potentially looking at a career in marine conservation, is not the same as the target guest for Song Saa Private Island. However, we do receive inquiries from the young friends and children of people who have stayed at the resort. Further, we receive a constant stream of emails from people who would like to volunteer with the Foundation. In the past we did not have an outlet for this, but through a dedicated programme we now have a place and opportunity to direct them to.
Where are most of the surfer volunteers from and what is the ultimate goal for PCU? CL: We have surfers from all over the world c oming a nd v o lu nt e e r i ng n ow - a nd we have an internship program too. Kids from Brazil, Holland, France, Singapore, and next, Switzerland, come to work with PCU and receive University credit. Building on the theme of community pride, we plan to one day, turn Uluwatu Surf Break, with its associated marine and land ecosystems, into a pristine and healthy World Surfing Reserve for the benefit of the coastal community for present and future generations. We hope to create a model of success and community pride that other beaches in Bali can look to for inspiration.