How Trash is Ham­per­ing In­done­sian Tourism

A sprawl­ing ar­chi­pel­ago of white sandy beaches, tow­er­ing ac­tive vol­ca­noes, seas abun­dant with marine life, rich rain­forests, and dozens of eth­nic cul­tures, it’s easy to see the trav­eller’s al­lure of vis­it­ing In­done­sia. But even the most pris­tine of touris

Indonesia Expat - - FRONT PAGE - By An­gela Jelita

Any­one who has spent time trav­el­ling through In­done­sia will tell you there are count­less

beau­ti­ful places to ex­plore. They will also tell you that chal­lenges in the in­dus­try abound, in­clud­ing in­fra­struc­ture and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, with the most no­tice­able be­ing the prob­lem of waste.

In­done­sia has am­bi­tious goals of reach­ing 20 mil­lion tourists by the year 2019, a leap of 8 mil­lion from last year’s tar­get. In 2015, tourism con­trib­uted 9.6 per­cent of the coun­try’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP), fol­low­ing be­hind the coun­try’s main earn­ers of coal, oil, gas and palm oil. Min­is­ter of Tourism Arief Yahya plans for the tourism in­dus­try to have dou­bled the na­tional GDP by 2019, to US$24 bil­lion an­nu­ally.

The Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank has agreed to loan US$10 bil­lion over the next five years to sup­port these tar­gets.

In 2015, In­done­sia was shame­fully bran­dished with the ‘sec­ond largest pol­luter of plas­tic marine waste’ ti­tle, trail­ing only be­hind China, a na­tion that pro­duces a third of the plas­tic garbage pol­lut­ing the world’s oceans.

Plas­tic pol­lu­tion is in­deed a global prob­lem, with an es­ti­mated 8 mil­lion tonnes be­ing re­leased into the oceans each year. Not only is the prob­lem phys­i­cally huge, like the Great Pa­cific Garbage Patch – a float­ing is­land of trash in the Pa­cific Ocean twice the size of France – but re­cent stud­ies are find­ing health ef­fects on hu­man be­ings can now be seen on a mi­cro­scopic level in the food chain. A group of ex­perts con­firmed con­tam­i­na­tion has been found in tens of thou­sands of or­gan­isms and in more than 100 species of marine life.

Oceans Deep

With In­done­sia’s oceans boast­ing the high­est lev­els of marine bio­di­ver­sity in the world, as well as be­ing one of the coun­try’s pri­mary tourist at­trac­tions, the govern­ment ap­pears to have fi­nally taken no­tice of the sever­ity of the grow­ing marine waste prob­lem which could pose a threat to the coun­try’s am­bi­tious eco­nomic goals.

Luhut Pand­jai­tan, In­done­sia’s Co­or­di­nat­ing Min­is­ter for Mar­itime Af­fairs, re­cently an­nounced a US$1 bil­lion a year pledge to re­duce lit­ter in the waters dur­ing the 2017 World Oceans Sum­mit in Bali. By 2025, the govern­ment has grand plans to re­duce the amount of marine waste by 70 per­cent.

Pand­jai­tan plans to do so through the cre­ation of new in­dus­tries that use biodegrad­able ma­te­ri­als like sea­weed and cas­sava as al­ter­na­tives to plas­tic. He will also in­tro­duce a na­tion­wide tax on plas­tic bags and a pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign. Although this is a pos­i­tive step in the right di­rec­tion, is it too lit­tle too late?

Many dis­grun­tled tourists who have trav­elled from far to ex­pe­ri­ence In­done­sia’s beau­ti­ful beaches end up spend­ing their hol­i­days comb­ing trash from the sand. They can be seen turn­ing to social me­dia to ex­press their dis­may at the sit­u­a­tion.

On April 20, hol­i­day­ing Dan­ish web de­vel­oper Chris­tian Ha­jdu shared his angst about how much garbage he picked up on a beach in Bali. “Imagine com­ing half way across the world to re­al­ize a dream in par­adise like a beau­ti­ful beach just to find it cov­ered in plas­tic waste!” he tweeted.

Moun­tains Tall

Although we of­ten hear stories in the me­dia on the is­sue of marine de­bris in the ar­chi­pel­ago, the prob­lem can also be found tow­er­ing above ground, on the coun­try’s many moun­tain­tops. Lom­bok’s Rin­jani, the coun­try’s high­est vol­cano, peak­ing at 3,726 me­tres above sea level, can see 2,000 vis­i­tors on its slopes per month. Although the views from the sum­mit into the caldera are stun­ning, and worth the hard work it takes to get to the top, the ex­tremely lit­tered trails and camp­sites are cre­at­ing a neg­a­tive im­age and could de­stroy the in­dus­try.

The Rin­jani Na­tional Park is run by the govern­ment, and lo­cal guides who earn a liv­ing tak­ing tourists up and down the moun­tain are com­plain­ing that the au­thor­i­ties are us­ing the money for so- called ‘ad­min­is­tra­tive’ costs in the cap­i­tal. Each for­eign vis­i­tor is re­quired to pay Rp.150,000 (US$11) for the priv­i­lege of en­ter­ing the park. If the Rin­jani Trek Man­age­ment Board (RTMB) col­lects Rp.150,000 from each for­eign tourist, and an av­er­age of 2,000 climb the moun­tain in a month, that’s an in­come of Rp. 300 mil­lion (US$22,000). It’s no won­der au­thor­i­ties are fight­ing over the funds.

It’s clear that this money is not be­ing used cor­rectly to fund fa­cil­i­ties, ed­u­ca­tion cam­paigns or clean- ups. Amer­i­can hiker Alice Richards climbed Rin­jani in 2016 and was ap­palled by the amount of lit­ter and lack of ba­sic fa­cil­i­ties like toi­lets. “I’ve hiked many trails,” she said, “but this is by far the dirt­i­est. I would never come back again!”

Other tourists have taken it upon them­selves to help fix the prob­lem. Saver­in­ is a web­site set up by Greek tourist Harry Vasil­iadis, who climbed the vol­cano in 2015. “I was shocked. Dis­gusted. Fu­ri­ous,” he tells In­done­sia Ex­pat. “My first re­ac­tion was that I did not want to sleep on top of trash – that was un­ac­cept­able.”

Upon reach­ing their sec­ond camp­site, Vasil­iadis and a group of around seven other hik­ers cleaned up the area and en­cour­aged an­other group to do the same. After speak­ing with their guide about the sever­ity of the sit­u­a­tion, they learned that many porters are not mo­ti­vated to bring their garbage back down with them. Hik­ers should also share the re­spon­si­bil­ity, but it is of­ten not the case, es­pe­cially with lo­cal groups. Vasil­iadis be­lieves it comes down to a lack of ed­u­ca­tion. “Not all hik­ers have the ‘hik­ing cul­ture’ and un­der­stand the ‘leave only your foot­prints’ rule,” he says.

Vasil­iadis’ web­site fo­cuses on rais­ing aware­ness to in­ter­na­tional hik­ers wish­ing to climb Lom­bok’s ma­jes­tic vol­cano. As the park is soon to be awarded the ti­tle of a UNESCO World Her­itage Park, he be­lieves it will re­ceive even more vis­i­tors, which would make the sit­u­a­tion much worse. “We hope to be able to per­form an eco- ex­pe­di­tion, which would in­clude a clean- up, dis­cus­sions with lo­cal vil­lagers and hik­ing pro­fes­sion­als, and put pres­sure on lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to take ac­tion,” he said.

When asked if he would re­turn to Rin­jani, Vasil­iadis an­swered, “Yes, and I would still rec­om­mend peo­ple visit, but car­ry­ing big plas­tic bags with them to col­lect trash along the way.

“The trash prob­lem tainted my ex­pe­ri­ence,” Vasil­iadis added. “It’s the same ev­ery­where where mass tourism does not go hand-in-hand with eco habits, in­fra­struc­ture and govern­ment reg­u­la­tions.”

When asked if he would re­turn to Rin­jani, he an­swered, “Yes, and I would still rec­om­mend peo­ple visit, but car­ry­ing big plas­tic bags with them to col­lect trash along the way.”

A Dan­ish tourist ex­pressed his dis­may via Twit­ter at how much rub­bish he had to clean up from a beach in Bali.

Rin­jani's camp­sites are cov­ered in lit­ter ( Im­age by Harry Vasil­iadis)

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